Lykins talks to the MU wheelchair basketball team during a break at a practice session.
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Just months after the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games ended, preparations for the 2016 games in Rio, Brazil began. Recently, the National Wheelchair Basketball Association announced that the University of Missouri wheelchair basketball head coach, Ron Lykins, will coach the United States men’s wheelchair basketball team for the 2016 Paralympic games. Lykins will look to improve on the U.S. team’s third-place finish in the 2012 Paralympics in London.
Although this is his first stint with the men’s wheelchair team, Lykins is no stranger to Paralympic basketball as he has coached the U.S. women’s team in three different Paralympics, winning gold in 2008 and 2004 and coming in fifth place in 2000.
“It’s a tremendous honor to represent your country during the games,” Lykins said. “You just can’t find a better coaching job than representing your country in international competition. I’m very humbled to have this opportunity.”
Lykins is currently in his fourth season as the head coach of the MU men’s wheelchair basketball team. His first season as head coach was the 2009-2010 season and it marked the first time in Tiger history that the team finished with a winning record. During that season, the team won the Gorilla Invitational Tournament at Pittsburgh State University and the Mizzou Wheelchair Basketball Classic while finishing seventh in the National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament (NIWBT). Since then, Lykins has led the Tigers to two more Mizzou Wheelchair Basketball Classic championships and two fifth place finishes in the NIWBT.
“During my time with the U.S. national team, I will remain the head coach at MU,” Lykins said. “Although it will be a busy and stressful time, the impact will be positive for our program. The attention of being head coach of the U.S. team will create an awareness of our program at MU throughout the country.”
Lykins’ duties as head coach begin immediately and will continue through the 2016 Paralympic games. After Lykins interviews candidates and selects his coaching staff, the staff will discuss which players to invite to a tryout camp in May. After they view hundreds of video submissions and referrals from coaches, the staff will invite 30-50 players to tryouts and select 12 individuals for the U.S. team.
Although the team expects to make it to Rio in 2016, a spot at the Paralympics isn’t guaranteed. First, the team must qualify for the World Championships in 2014 by competing in a “zone qualifying” tournament in Colombia this year. The team must finish in the top four to qualify for the World Championships in Goyang City, South Korea. To qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, the team will have to place in the top four at the 2015 ParaPan-American Games in Toronto, Canada.
“It’s all a process from start to finish,” Lykins said. “Right now we can’t even begin to think about Rio. We have to take things one step at a time, starting with finding the right group of players and developing them into the players we want. Then, we can take the levels of competition step by step from there until we reach Rio.”
Lykins is known for producing good players at the wheelchair basketball level, as two of his MU players were selected to be on the 2009 U.S. “under 20” national team.