Men's wheelchair basketball looking forward to 2015-16 season

At 6:30 on a Thursday morning, the University of Alabama men’s wheelchair basketball team begins practice on the cold courts of the Student Recreation Center.

After the team finishes its warm-up drills, players gather in a circle to read a quote from a book. A common practice inspired by head coach Ford Burttram, these quotes of adversity and inspiration are a look into the bigger picture of life on and off the court.

Burttram adapted the philosophy with the influence of former UCLA head coach John Wooden. He learned about Coach Wooden’s philosophy from former Alabama wheelchair basketball head coach Miles Thompson, who Burttram played for from 2006-2009.

He was an assistant for both the men’s and women’s wheelchair teams until 2014. After Thompson's coaching career ended at Alabama after the 2013-2014 season, Burttram took on the role as head coach to start the 2014-2015 season.

“Some people are natural born leaders and some people work at it, I think I’ve been blessed to be a natural born leader,” Burttram said. “So the way that it translates to my coaching is that I do things the right way, honest, and I’m open with my players.”

Last season in Burttram's first year as head coach and with six freshman on a nine-man lineup, the team struggled to find the same winning success of previous years, finishing the season 14-16. Despite the losing record, he doesn’t want to focus on previous season, but base his team on the amount of improvement and effort.

“I really don’t compare this season to last season,” Burttram said. “I tell them that there is always two things we control and that is our effort and communication. I don’t judge the character of this team through wins and losses, I judge this team on how much we’ve improved and how we handle adversity.”

During the summer to prepare for this season, players Sean Burns and James Cook stayed in Tuscaloosa with Coach Burttram to work various chair skills, shooting forms and hand speed.

“I was here all summer and I worked a lot on my shooting form and lay ups,” Cook said. “I’ve never really played basketball before I got injured, so my shot form needed some work. I took the time over the summer to work on that.”

With increased experienced from their freshman and offseason work by their returning players, the team has added more depth to their roster adding three more players to give them a full 12-man roster for the 2015-2016 season.

“We are staying focused on the objective of becoming better as a team and getting on board with one another on and off the court,” second-year player DeQuel Robinson said. “Last season was pretty rough on us and with players returning, we aren’t losing anything but we are gaining so much.”

As practice ends, Burttram gathers his team in a circle to discuss the pros and cons about practice and the expectation for this season. He then asked Robinson to lead a loud “Alabama” chant that lasted over 10 seconds in echoes throughout the gym.

“In coaching, I’m a very even-keeled kind of guy,” Burttram said. “I don’t get too high, I don’t get too low, I don’t get too excited, and I don’t get too upset. I’m pretty level headed and I think all the adversity I’ve been through in my life made me that way.”

This Saturday, the men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams will play the season opener at the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham against Lakeshore Lightning. The men will play at 10 a.m. and women finish off the double header at noon.

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