John Gilbert has a nice souvenir from his overseas travels this summer. Gilbert won a gold medal Tuesday playing for the United States team in the International Wheelchair Basketball Association's Under-23 World Championships in Paris. Gilbert, from Fairfax, Mo., is a member of the MU wheelchair basketball team.
The 12-team field at the championships included Canada, Mexico, France, Brazil, Australia, Sweden, Turkey, Japan, Russia, Malaysia and Spain. The Americans dominated the field, building an 8-0 record and defeating Spain 77-54 in the title game. En-route to the gold, the USA posted an average margin of victory of 44 points. Jim Glatch, the head wheelchair basketball coach at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, scouted Gilbert and invited him to tryout for the team.
This was not Gilbert's first taste of international glory. In 2007, Gilbert won a gold medal at the Para Pan-American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Ron Lykins, the MU wheelchair basketball coach, said that experience carries over to his play for the Tigers and makes him a standout player.
"John brings a lot of leadership to our team," Lykins said. "He's a vocal leader but really sets an example with how he plays. He does whatever he can to make himself a better player. By making himself a better player, he shows his teammates what they need to do."
Although his tenure as coach started in February, Lykins has known Gilbert since 2007. Lykins got his first look at Gilbert at the Para Pan-American Games when Lykins was coaching the women's national team.
When Gilbert was a child, a tumor on his spine caused him to lose all motor function in his legs. According to the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, Gilbert is a Class 1 athlete. A classification system exists within wheelchair basketball in order to maintain competition while encouraging individuals with more severe disabilities to play. According to the NWBA, a Class 1 athlete has complete motor loss at vertebra T-7 or above or a comparable disability where there is total loss of muscle function at vertebra T-7. There are three different classes, with Class 1 being the most disabled. Athletes are assigned points based on their class, and a team may not total more than 12 points at any one time on the floor.
"Being a Class 1 athlete, John is especially valuable to us. He makes our team more adaptable and allows us to save points elsewhere," Lykins said.
Gilbert's international career will continue with an invitation to tryout for the 2009 Senior National Wheelchair Basketball Team in August in Birmingham, Ala.
Gilbert, who gets five years of eligibility as a wheelchair athlete, has been an All-American for four straight years at Missouri. He helped the Tigers to 25 victories last season, the most for the program. Missouri is a member of the intercollegiate division of the NWBA. For more information on wheelchair basketball go to the NWBA Web site at www.nwba.org.