Recap of the 2017 National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament in Louisville, KY

What an incredible week for the Jr. Road Warriors at the National Tournament in Louisville, KY.

Jr Road Warriors
Group shot of the Jr Road Warriors on the court the the Naitonal Wheelchair Basketball Tournament in Louisville, KY

The Jr. Road Warriors entered the tournament ranked #8 in the country and riding a 9-game winning streak. The team faced a tough team from Chicago to start the tournament and the kids were excited to get things rolling. After a dominating first half by the Jr. Road Warriors, the Chicago Hawks made their run to close the gap to just 2 points with seconds left. A tough defensive stand forced a bad shot and the Jr. Road Warriors were able to hang on for the 40-38 win and advanced to the next round.

In the round of eight teams, the Jr. Road Warriors would face the #1 ranked Dallas Jr. Mavericks. Dallas had come into the the tournament 31-0 and were the favorite to take home the title. The Jr. Road Warriors played an incredible first half, holding Dallas to just 24 points. Unfortunately they only scored 14. In the 2nd half, Dallas found their form and turnovers stalled any momentum we could start and Dallas capitalized on our mistakes. Dallas went on to defeat the Jr. Road Warriors 54-29.

The loss dropped the team down into the placement bracket (In the NWBA, the team’s play out the tournament to determine final placing which determines final season rankings). This matched the team up against the Houston Hotwheels, ranked #5 coming into the tournament. Again, the Jr. Road Warriors played well in the first half, but turnovers continued to plague the team and the Hotwheels were able to take a lead at half. With under five minutes left in the game, and the Jr. Road Warriors down by 17, the show began. Jacob Ramirez hit four 3-point shots in a row and cut the lead to 7 points (the Hotwheels scored a basket during this run). Unfortunately, there was not enough time and the Jr. Road warriors lost by nine, 55-46.

This put the Jr. Road Warriors in their final game of the tournament, playing for 7th place. Since they came into the tournament ranked #8, there was no pressure on the team at all. Their opponent, the RHI Racers, came into the tournament ranked #6 and they were a much bigger, faster team. The Jr. Road Warriors were unfazed during the game and played an incredible team game. Isaiah Ahlstrom, one of the team’s leading scorers during the regular season, entered the game having scored only 4 points total in the previous three games. He found a way to take the lid off the bucket and finally had his normal type of game. When the Racers pressed, Ben Thornton and Jacob Ramirez benefitted from perfect picks set by Ella Rodriguez, Garnett Silver-Hall, and Stephen Christian. The bench offered tons of energy and Daniel Diana, Matthew Hatae, Eyan Gilder, and Avery Dauer all came in and played great defense and set the picks to get their teammates free. Their composure in the 2nd half was amazing and Jacob and Stephen ran the pick & roll to perfection. The Jr. Road Warriors held on to win 54-42 and secure the #7 spot for the end of season rankings.

This was an incredible tournament and marks the end to a career for one of BORP’s favorite athletes. Matthew Hatae has been the Co-Captain of the Jr. Road Warriors for the last two years. He did not earn that responsibility by making baskets. As a matter of fact, he rarely shoots the ball, and when he does you never know where it is going (or if you will even be able to find the ball). What he does is simply, work. He constantly is put in a position to try and get his teammates open. He sets picks, plays defense, and gets very little attention for his efforts on the court. He is the ultimate teammate to the rest of the team and has been a perfect pick as Captain.

Group hug at the National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament
Group hug for Matthew at the National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament
Tip off at the National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament
Matthew at tip off

This year Matthew will graduate high school and move on to bigger things. It has been great being able to coach him for the past eight years.

The absolute best moment of the tournament came with only seconds left on the clock. Matthew, sat behind a screen set by Ella on the left side of the key. Jacob dropped a cross-court pass to him and Matthew banked in his last (and only) shot, in his last National Tournament with the Jr. Road Warriors. You could not have imagined the excitement his teammates had for him, and it was the perfect end to an incredible career for Matthew. Holding true to form, Matthew let me know that he should have been shooting more since he shot 100% for the tournament…

The kids had a blast at the banquet and danced through the evening. To top things off, Jacob was named to the 2nd team All-Tournament Team and Matthew received an All-American Academic Honorable Mention Award.

Congratulations to all the kids that played this year, and thanks to all the families that made this season spectacular.

Varsity Banquet NWBA
The Jr Road Warriors at the Varsity Banquet during 2017 National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament in Louisville, KY