The players on the U.S. men's wheelchair basketball team never doubted they would be competing for a gold, but the results may not have met their expectations.
The U.S. captured back-to-back silver medals following a lopsided 79-62 defeat at hands of Great Britain. The win gives the British their first gold medal in the history of the IWBF World Championships, thanks to a clutch 17-point (11 in the fourth quarter) performance of the bench by George Bates.
“It’s a disappointing finish,” said Steve Serio of Westbury, New York. “We had a great tournament. We knew that this was gonna be a fight, but we thought that we were in a position to be successful today.”
The loss snapped a four-year, 43-game win streak for the U.S., which includes winning the 2015 ParaPan Am Games, the 2016 Paralympic Games and the 2017 IWBF America’s Qualifier. The last loss came against Australia, in the gold-medal game of the 2014 World Championships.
Jake Williams of Milwaukee, Wisconsin finished with a team-high 15 points and 5 assists for the U.S. Brian Bell of Birmingham, Alabama added 14 points and seven rebounds. He did most of his work down low, banging chairs and battling for boards with the British behemoth Lee Manning (12 points, five rebounds, two blocks).
Bell called this British team “the future of their sport” following the U.S. win last Sunday, but the Americans did not expect that future to come a week later.
The game developed as a dynamic contrast of styles: the bruising inside game of Great Britain versus the sweet outside shooting of the U.S. Both teams torched opponents throughout the tournament, finishing first (G.B.) and second (U.S) in points per game. Team USA men’s head coach Ron Lykins of Columbia, Missouri called this group of Brits “the best team this summer.”
“We tried doing some different things with [Great Britain], but it seems like no matter what we did we couldn’t stop them,” Lykins said. “Defensively this was one of the worst performances we had, but that was due to them.”
The British shot a hyper-efficient 60 percent in this contest, chaining methodical offensive possessions with defensive stops.Team USA found good looks on the perimeter and in the paint, but shot only 40 percent.
Serio tallied only six points on 3-of-14 shooting. Even though he contributed in other areas (nine rebounds, six assists, five steals) the team captain says he “let the guys down.”
“I’m pretty disappointed in my individual performance,” Serio said. “I promise you that I will get better. We’ll learn from this loss.”
A 10-2 run in the middle of the second quarter gave the Brits a 30-28 lead, and they never relinquished it. Even when the U.S. pressed with its trademark speed-defense lineup, the effort came in vain. The British game planned for this scheme and made crisp passes and cuts for a number of transition layups. Great Britain’s Harry Brown went on several cuts down the lane, scoring 17 points as the U.S failed to close gaps in the paint.
Team USA’s men end with a 6-1 record in the 2018 IWBF World Championships. Williams and Serio were both named to the 2018 IWBF World Championships All-Star 5. Williams fished sixth overall amongst all players in tournament scoring with 16.8 points per game, and fifth in 3s made per game (1.67). Serio picked pockets and intercepted passes all week, finishing first in steals per game (2.67).
The U.S. men have returned home with a medal from every World Championships since 1975, playing for the gold medal in 11 of the last 12 IWBF World Championships.
“In perspective, we had a really good summer,” Lykins said. “But we came short of our goal.”
Joining NWBA Hall of Famer Lykins are his assistants Robb Taylor of Auburn, Alabama, and John Sikora of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Scott Meyer of Columbia, Missouri, serves as the Team Leader, with Mary Vacala of Savannah, Georgia, filling the athletic trainer position. Assisting Valaca at the trainer position is Jeremy Johnson of Dothan, Alabama.
2018 IWBF World Championships
August 16 - 26, 2018
2018 IWBF World Championships Results
USA def. Poland, 82-51 (1-0)
USA def. Great Britain, 66-59 (2-0)
USA def. South Korea, 75-49 (3-0)
USA def. Morocco, 82-31 (4-0)
USA def. Argentina, 82-31 (5-0)
USA def. Australia, 84-59 (6-0)
Great Britain def. USA, 79 - 62 (6-1)
U.S. Men’s Schedule for 2018 IWBF World Championships
8/18 vs Poland, 3:30 AM (Eastern/New York)
8/19 vs Great Britain, 2:15 PM
8/20 vs South Korea, 8:00 AM
8/21 Crossover, vs Morocco, 2:00 AM
8/22 Quarterfinals, vs Argentina, 6:00 AM
8/24 Semifinals, vs Australia, 7:30 AM
8/26 Finals, vs Great Britain, 9:30 AM
The #RoadToGold has reached it's final stop for Team USA! The men play Great Britain today at 9:30 AM EST for the IWBF World Championships gold medal! Stay here to watch the game, get live stats and post-game recaps!