Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

MU Wheelchair Basketball Team Recruits New Star Athlete

Connor Downes is an academic All-American and MVP of this year's NWBA championship game

May 14, 2009

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

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Connor Downes, a high school senior from Rosemount, Minn., is the newest member of the University of Missouri Tiger Wheelchair Basketball Team (TWB).

"I am excited to come and help build the program at Mizzou," said Downes, from Rosemount, Minn. "My goal is to learn how to play with the new teammates and hopefully boost the record next year."

Ranked among the nation's top players, Downes was named MVP in this year's NWBA championship game, after scoring the game-winning basket in the final seconds. His team, the Courage Center Junior Rolling Timberwolves, defeated the San Diego Hammer, 51-50. Downes said MU head coach Ron Lykins, who joined the team earlier this year, played an important role in his decision to sign with MU.

"It is important for a player of Connor's ability to come to Mizzou," said Lykins. "Not only will he be a great fit for the team, he will help in recruiting other quality players to our program. He is an important building block to the future of our program."

Downes, who plans to major in international business at MU, has been playing wheelchair basketball for the past four years. He was born with a clubbed foot that was repaired shortly after birth, but it left his left leg a half-inch shorter than his right leg. Downes said that after his growth spurt, it was too difficult to play able-bodied sports. Now, he uses a wheelchair only when playing basketball.

In the sport, players are classified into three categories. Class I players have a complete motor loss, Class II players may have some motor power of hips and thighs, and Class III players have other physical disabilities related to lower extremity paralysis or lower extremity amputees. Downes classifies as class III. Because the level of disability can vary greatly among players, each classification is given a numerical value. Class I has one point, class II has two points and class III has three points. A team may not have players on the court whose total points are greater than 12.

"Wheelchair basketball hasn't been about disabilities for me, but rather, opportunities," Downes said. "The appeal of the sport doesn't stop at the buzzer. I like how it brings people together. On the court you're rivals, but after the game we are all friends."

Tiger Wheelchair Basketball student-athletes challenge themselves not just athletically, but academically, balancing the many demands of the college classroom with the demands of the basketball court. In the past, the team has boasted a cumulative 3.0 GPA. Previously, MU opened a new fitness room to accommodate the TWB team. The Tiger Wheelchair Basketball Team Fitness Center offers players a private workout area complete with ergometers and weight-lifting equipment.

Visit to learn more about Tiger Wheelchair Basketball.