Wheelchair Suns Finish Second in Nation
By Dustin Krugel
Posted: April 2, 2002
A younger, faster University of Wisconsin-Whitewater team derailed the Banner Wheelchair Suns’ quest for their first national championship on March 30.
After upsetting the top-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks in the semifinals of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association Final Four on March 29, the Phoenix Suns’ competitive wheelchair basketball team lost to the second-seeded Warhawks, 72-50, in Champaign, Ill. in the tournament’s 54th championship game.
“We got our butts kicked,” admitted Head Coach Gary Venjohn, who has either been a player or coach for most of the team’s 14-year history. “They are a college team with a bunch of kids who are in the gym six or seven times a week.”
The Banner Wheelchair Suns (24-11) are a community-based team that practices two nights a week. That is if they can fit their workouts in around their hectic work schedules and families.
“They are in much better shape than we are and they are young. We couldn’t match their speed,” Venjohn said of the Warhawks. “They kept blocking us down court. We couldn’t get into our offensive sets. They had a great game plan and just wore us out.”
After winning the competitive West Regional, the Banner Wheelchair Suns advanced to the Final Four as the fourth and final seed. Their first game pitted them against the top-ranked Div. II team, who had already handily beat the BWS earlier in the season.
“It was a close game,” Venjohn said of the BWS’s 64-60 victory over Arkansas. “It was a back and forth battle all the way. We made some adjustments to come back. We changed our defensive sets a little bit and worked to get more of our offensive players involved. It worked.”
After practicing non-stop since last August, the BWS will take some much-needed R&R until they start playing once a week again in June.
Venjohn already has his sights set on a third-straight Final Four appearance next season.
“Not only are we thinking about next season, but we are also looking into hosting the Final Four next year,” he added.
In addition to league play, the team participates in fundraisers and visits local schools and youth groups to raise awareness of disability issues. The team also created a Drive Safe Campaign that features TV and radio public service announcements, posters and school assemblies geared toward young drivers.
The Banner Wheelchair Suns are sponsored by Banner Health Arizona, Arizona Spinal Cord Injury Association, Paralyzed Veterans Association of America, America West Airlines and the Phoenix Suns.