COLUMBIA — Ron Lykins never thought he would be coaching wheelchair basketball at the highest possible level. Then, on Jan. 21, he received a phone call.
The National Wheelchair Basketball Association recently announced that Missouri coach Ron Lykins would be the head coach of Team USA at the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
Lykins is no stranger to the international circuit, having coached the women’s national team for 18 years. His teams won gold at the 2004 and 2008 Paralympic games.
“It’s a very exciting thing to be able to represent your country in sport," said Lykins, who has seen his career progress from a volunteer position to the top job in the country. "I don’t think there is a better job than that.”
Lykins, who is not in a wheelchair, first got involved with wheelchair basketball when he was an undergrad at the University of Kentucky back in the early 1980s. It was a requirement in his recreation and administration major to do 90 hours of fieldwork.
“I played basketball in high school and still loved the sport. I didn’t have a car so it needed to be close,” said Lykins. “I finished the requirements in two weeks.”
Lykins remained at Kentucky for graduate school and began coaching the Kentucky men’s wheelchair basketball team. After his first experience as a head coach, he decided to make a career out of it.
The decision eventually led Lykins to Missouri in 2009. In his initial season, he led the Tigers to their first winning season in program history (which dates back to 2004). Under Lykins, the team has won three Mizzou Wheelchair Basketball Classics and has finished fifth twice in the National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament.
Lykins said coaching Team USA would be beneficial for Missouri.
“The exposure that will go out to promote our program, the university and everything we have to offer is going to be tremendous,” he said.
The new job has already begun for Lykins, but he intends to continue coaching at Missouri and explained that most of the training and preparations for Team USA will happen in the summer months, which is Missouri's offseason.
Right now Lykins is focused on a game against Kansas on Sunday.
Team USA will see its first action later this year in a zone qualifying tournament in Columbia. A top four finish there will advance them to South Korea for the 2014 World Championships. In 2015, the team will travel to Toronto for the Parapan Am games, which will serve as the qualifier for Rio de Janeiro.
“I know I was named the coach for Rio, but we still have to get there,” said Lykins.