Wheelchair Hoops Stoke Competitive Fire at Fit Clinic
by Jimmy Do | okcthunder.com
Before zooming past bewildered defenders, 13-year-old Laramie Darden flung a cross-court pass like a frozen rope ending in an Andre Roberson transition layup.
On the ensuing offensive possession, Darden barked for cutters then defty lofted a pass over the outstretched arms of defenders for a Kyle Singler floater. Celebratory high-five slaps from Terrance Ferguson followed as she and her teammates reset for a defensive possession.
Last Thursday afternoon at Solid Rock Basketball saw a fiery Darden orchestrate finishes at the rim in a rip-roaring wheelchair hoops scrimmage at the Thunder Fit Clinic, presented by Homeland.
As part of NBA Fit Week, the day featured a gauntlet of health and fitness activities for the players of the Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder—a wheelchair basketball team.
After skills drills and a nutrition lesson to rev up the athletes, Darden was ready to show her mettle on the hardwood. The pull of competition lit Darden like a caged animal waiting to be unleashed.
“Being the only girl boosts me up because I’m going to show these boys up,” said Darden.
Almost three years ago to the day, an early morning car accident in Woodward County sent Darden to the hospital with injuries that led her to be confined to a wheelchair.
However, the tragedy did not stop Darden from continuing to play the sport that fueled her.
“I had to learn to adapt to sitting down and playing. And before we had our accident, basketball was my life,” said Darden. “Having the accident, didn’t really change anything.”
At the receiving end of a couple of Darden dimes, Roberson noticed she played with a boulder-sized chip on her shoulder that could only rival the intensity of Russell Westbrook.
Measuring from the front foothold to the back of the wheels, the combined 20-foot-6-inch wingspans of Roberson, Singler and Ferguson required six wheelchairs from end-to-end to match their total length.
Before the scrimmage tipped off, whatever athletic advantages the Thunder trio had on the court was neutralized. Roberson realized that the athletes maneuvered with the precision and deftness of an orchestra.
“There’s definitely athleticism. You gotta be strong in the hands to push the cart and be mobile in the paint,” said Roberson. “It’s real good and challenging at the same time. We’ve got some good athletes out here.”
For Darden, wheelchair hoops gave her an outlet to stoke her competitive fire.
“I don’t think people realize how hard it is to play wheelchair basketball,” said Darden. “It looks easy, but it’s actually competitive and it’s really hard.”
“That’s what it’s all about. Having that strong mentality to keep fighting, to keep grinding and doing the things you love,” said Roberson.”So don’t ever let anybody tell you can’t do anything.”
Postgame selfie. Darden takes a selfie with Roberson after the scrimmage. Photo by Jimmy Do | OKC Thunder
Skills on wheels. Ferguson works on his bounce passes. Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder
Teamwork. Singler: “They work really well as a team. I thought some of them are really impressive.” Photo by Jimmy Do | OKC Thunder
New uniforms. The Thunder worked with the wheelchair basketball team to unveil new uniforms complete with team logo. Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder
This is why we play. Photo by Jimmy Do | OKC Thunder
Watch: Wheelchair Athletes Wow Thunder