MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. – The Marine Corps wheelchair basketball team defended its title June 23, defeating the Navy team for gold, 57-24, in the 2015 DoD Warrior Games wheelchair basketball finals here.
The journey to the gold began with the seed games on June 20. The Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, U.S. Special Forces Command and British forces wheelchair basketball teams first met up to determine who would make it to the playoffs.
Marines Dominate Early
Air Force had some early wins but the Marine Corps team dominated early with at least a 20-point spread. The Air Force and Army played a tight game during the playoffs to jockey for the bronze but the Air Force took a 19-17 win in the second half.
The Marine and Navy teams had their minds focused on the gold.
Retired Marine Corps Cpl. Anthony McDaniel, the former team captain said the team’s best advantage is they have a strong defense.
“They play excellent defense; they’re really aggressive and they’ve got great stamina so they play at a high pace the whole game so that helps us out with experience on the court,” he said.
He said another advantage is some of the players also play on the San Diego Wolfpack wheelchair basketball team so they also bring that experience to the team.
Retired Marine Corps Sgt. Clayton McDaniel, the team captain, said the strength of his team came down to “good defense, good communication and good teamwork.”
Marine Corps head coach Joey Gugliotta said another strength the Marine team had was that there’s no holes in the lineup.
“We can put five guys in there any time. We can take the bench and the bench will come in and be ready. What’s good about us is we’re a strong team from bottom to top,” he said.
Navy Coach Salutes Team’s Performance
The Navy team lost to the Air Force by one point in the first round of the seeding but beat them in the playoffs by 17 points. Navy head coach Grant Moorehead said it was going to be a challenge for the Navy team to take on the Marines but he was already proud of them.
“This is going to be a tough game. The Marines get to play regularly all the time, and this team’s been together here pretty much at one camp where we had six days to get ready so they’ve developed really well,” he said. “They’ve outperformed what I expected; the Marines are strong; they’re good shooters but I hope they give them a good test today.”
During the first half, the Navy had several shot attempts, but the Marines were aggressive with the blocking, strong on the rebound and kept the ball in their court for as long as they could, putting the score at 36-14.
At the half, Gugliotta said the Marine team could pick up the defense a little bit but that the “guys are working real hard and playing real well together. These guys came willing to work, and they all want to play hard. They just need to keep that energy up and the communication up.”
Navy team captain medically retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Hector Varela said the Marine team was playing a little faster so the Navy team had to “start playing smarter and thinking ahead of them, trying to outsmart them.
Varela said he was proud of how his team was playing going into the second half.
“They have a good energy going, and as long as they keep it up, they’re playing strong, whatever the board says, as long as they play strong and 100 percent out there, I’m happy with that,” he said.
As the buzzer sounded, the Marines kicked it into overdrive and widened the point spread. The Navy continued to push hard until the final seconds though.
The last two years, the Navy won the bronze medal so this is the first year they made it into the gold medal round and earned the silver.
‘We Faced a Very Strong Opponent’
“I’m very proud of my team,” Varela said. “We faced a very strong opponent. They’ve been playing for about four years on average on teams and most of these guys, this is their first year. They’ve been in the chair for maybe two months and facing that, I’m very proud. As long as they left everything they had on the court, they should walk out of here with their heads held up high because we gave them a good fight. We have heart; we didn’t give up. We played all 40 minutes of the game, and now we’re silver medalists.”
“We’re thrilled to have made silver,” Moorehead said. “They really worked hard, got better and played as a team. That’s all I can ask.”
McDaniel said he is proud of his team and that a strong defense is what sealed the win for them.
“Our defense had a lot to do with how we did today,” he said. “We communicated a lot better in the second half, and offense was making our shots. Everything was coming together nicely for us.”
He said what also strengthens the bond of the Marine team is that the members live by the mentality that Marines “stick together and never quit on each other. We’ll always be a part of the team, whether we’re here or somewhere else. When we reunite, it’s almost like we pick up from day one and that’s a good bond and brotherhood that will never be ever forgotten or missed.”
As for next year’s Warrior Games, he said the Marine team plans to “keep coming back hard and strong.”