JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Brooks Ballers wheelchair basketball team is headed to nationals this week and hopes to return to the River City as champions.
The team, part of the Brooks Adaptive Sports Program, includes former Jaguars player Richard Collier.
“It’s not really a difference. Different sport but the premise is the same -- you’re still competitive; you still have to train; you still have to hone your skills," Collier said. “There are some guys who are really skilled in this sport, so nothing’s really (different) -- other than the pay.”
Players on the team volunteer their time and practice twice a week.
“There’s nothing we can’t do. We just do it differently," Brooks Ballers coach Randy Pullings said. “I guess the misconception is that we’re depressed or at home or sitting around, and we’re just like regular people. We just happen to be in a wheelchair. I always tell people we’re not defined by our wheelchairs, like people aren’t defined by their cars. This is just a vehicle of transportation.”
Collier, who was left paralyzed from the waist down after a shooting in 2008, has been playing for the basketball team for nine years.
“We’ve been evolving. You know, I’ve literally seen some of these guys from teenagers -- now they’re young men. We’re all growing," Collier said. “Everybody is closer than ever.”
The team is currently ranked sixth nationally.
“They take care of one another, and I think that’s what has brought them to this point where they’re going to nationals,” said Merry Raber, the mother of a player.
The Ballers head to Wichita this weekend to battle 15 of the country’s top teams in the 2020 National Wheelchair Basketball Association championship.
“I can take a loss, if I know we gave everything we had," Pullings said. “I don’t mind getting beat by a better team. I do mind getting beat by ourselves and not giving what we have because I know that if we play our game, there’s no team that can beat us.”
The team is made up of 15 players, but only 12 will be traveling for this weekend's tournament.
They have to win four straight games to bring home the national trophy.
“Don’t bring nothing back to Jacksonville but a championship title," Pullings said. “Every inch of effort -- everything you got -- leave it there because we’re going to need it.”