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MU Tiger Wheelchair Basketball Player Brings Home Gold from Para Pan-American Games

Aug. 30, 2007

Story Contact:  Christian Basi, 573-882-4430,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — One University of Missouri-Columbia wheelchair basketball player got a little extra practice this summer. John Gilbert, an MU junior, brought his game to the courts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and came back to school with a gold medal.

Gilbert, last year's Tiger Wheelchair Basketball (TWB) team captain, was one of 12 players selected nationwide to compete on the U.S. Men's Para Pan-American Wheelchair Basketball Team this August. Not only did the team bring home the gold, but it earned an opportunity to compete in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China.

“Playing in Brazil was one of the best times of my life,” Gilbert said. “We were there accomplishing what we went down there to do: win the gold.”

With a gold medal under his belt, Gilbert is preparing for his next task: the upcoming TWB season. TWB Coach Steve Paxton said that Gilbert will likely be a stronger player and more confident leader because of his experience on the national team.

“Playing with this group of individuals was a great experience for me. Here I am playing with the best that our nation has to offer,” Gilbert said. “All of the veteran players on the team helped me out greatly because I was the rookie.”

In many ways, TWB functions like any other college sports team, with recruitment, training and regular, rigorous practices. Somewhere between a club sport and an officially recognized NCAA sport, the team is held to its own set of standards — standards that Paxton sets high. In addition to 6:30 a.m. practices, he requires mandatory study time for the team. Last year, the team boasted a cumulative GPA of more than 3.0. The GPA included classes taken through this past summer session.

While a winning season is hopefully on the agenda this Fall, players and staff have an additional goal in mind: spreading the word about wheelchair basketball.

“Our game is full of strategy, skill, athleticism, intensity, and even a little bit of contact,” Paxton said. “In addition to all that, it will dispel a few myths that people often have regarding people with disabilities. An awesome game and a life lesson — what other sports do that?”

The 10-player team will take part in the first tournament of the season Oct. 13–14 in St. Louis. The first home game, versus the Kansas City Thunder, will take place Oct. 21 in Brewer Fieldhouse. Admission to all home games is free.