Auburn Wheelchair Basketball Summer Camp participants treated to visits from special guests

U.S. Paralympic Gold Medalist Matt Scott, Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl interact with campers

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Nearly 30 participants at this year’s Auburn Wheelchair Basketball Summer Camp enjoyed a special treat Thursday when U.S. Paralympic Gold Medalist Matt Scott and Auburn Men’s Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl made appearances at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.

Scott—who won gold with Team USA in Rio de Janeiro in 2016—helped Auburn Wheelchair Basketball Coach Robb Taylor run the interactive skills camp on Wednesday and interacted with athletes during Thursday’s team games, while Pearl stopped by the gym during the Thursday morning session to speak to the group. The male and female camp participants—who ranged in age from 11-20 and came from roughly a dozen states—received high-level instruction from Taylor and Scott and some inspirational words from Pearl.

“Having Coach Pearl stop by and having five-time Paralympian Matt Scott here to help was great,” said Taylor, who has won Paralympic gold medals as a coach for both the men’s and women’s U.S. teams. “These campers came into town to get better at wheelchair basketball, and we taught them the basics, all the way from shooting and passing to defense, full-court and half-court offensive conversions and then finished it with a big tournament here at the end, which the kids always love. The kids got a good mix of learning the sport, but also hearing from guys who are the best in their fields in the sport, both wheelchair and able-bodied basketball.”

Pearl spoke to the group about life, basketball, overcoming obstacles and Auburn’s potential to be a welcoming place they can develop as students and athletes.

“Auburn is an everything school, and this is a place where they can be included, welcomed, feel comfortable and challenged,” Pearl said. “This is a place where people can be great. I love Auburn and want the best and the brightest to be able to come here and love her too.”

Pearl was impressed by the skill level on display by the camp participants, who were able to get the full college experience by staying on campus in dorms and eating meals at the Harold D. Melton Student Center.

“I look at these athletes, and wheelchair basketball athletes are some of the best I could ever lay eyes on with what they’re able to do,” Pearl said. “The challenges they’ve had, the obstacles they’ve had to overcome are obstacles you have to work your way through, and that sounds like what it’s like to be an Auburn student. They’re going to have obstacles and challenges as they’re working their way through becoming a great engineer, a great nurse or a great wheelchair basketball player.

“I’m impressed and inspired.”

For Scott—who will represent the United States at this summer’s Paralympic Summer Games in Tokyo Aug. 24-Sept. 5—helping Taylor and his staff with the camp and getting the chance to interact with the participants was a great motivator as he prepares to help Team USA defend its gold medal.

“Being here this week meant everything to me,” said Scott, who was born with spinal bifida. “I like to give them my expertise and share my experiences with them, but I also enjoy absorbing some of the enthusiasm they have. I see myself in them, and I hope that my career and my life can be a testament to them to show that they can make their dreams come true and maybe become Paralympians as well.”

Taylor relished the chance to have Scott help as an instructor at the camp, which also received a surprise visit from Aubie the Tiger on Wednesday.

“He’s just a great ambassador for the U.S. Team and our sport,” said Taylor, who came to Auburn in 2016. “They’ve had the chance to talk with Matt and find out about the Paralympics and how he got to where he is. It’s just great, and I think it helps us differentiate our camp from some other camps that we’ve got people like Matt and Coach Pearl who are willing to give back and help out.”

Wave of momentum

The four-day camp—which was a collaboration among the Office of Accessibility and University Outreach’s Office of Professional & Continuing Education—is now in its fourth year and was conducted by Taylor and more than 10 Auburn Wheelchair Basketball players and staff members. Its robust turnout, which included campers from roughly a dozen states, is further illustration of the momentum Taylor and the program are creating at Auburn.

Through increased awareness and hard work, the program has begun to thrive. Taylor and the team’s administrators have been able to help renovate the team’s weight room, athletic training room and locker room through donations via Tiger Giving Day in recent years, and he helped guide the Tigers to a program-best third-place national finish at the end of the 2020-21 season.

A record $97,886 haul from the 2021 Tiger Giving Day will help Taylor provide scholarships for the team’s student-athletes and recruit future stars to the Plains, and anyone wishing to help the team can donate throughout the year.

“We’ve had great support from the Auburn Family through Tiger Giving Day from Day 1, and the family really came together this year and supported us with money for scholarships, which is one of our biggest needs,” Taylor said. “Now, we’re able to recruit the top kids from around the country, many of whom came to the camp this week. So, we’re very thankful for the support from Auburn, from alumni and from current students, family and friends, and it’s really making an impact on our program.”

Pearl lauded Taylor’s commitment to growing the reach of Auburn Wheelchair Basketball, which will begin its 2021-22 season Oct. 15-16 in Tuscaloosa.

“Robb Taylor has done an amazing job with this program,” Pearl said. “Auburn’s done a great job supporting this program, and it’s one of the best in the country. I’m so proud of the way this program has represented Auburn and the progress that’s been made the last few years.”

The 36-year-old Scott was all smiles when talking about the current state of Auburn’s program and the sport of wheelchair basketball.

“It’s amazing to see what they’ve done here in such a short time,” said Scott, a Detroit native who began playing wheelchair basketball at age 14. “I see the game of wheelchair basketball continuing to grow. To be able to work on Paralympic and wheelchair basketball awareness and seeing the flowers bloom right now is really incredible.

“It’s a great time to be a wheelchair basketball player.”

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