Wheelchair basketball team hopes for big fan showing against Alabama on Saturday

by 24USATVJan. 22, 2022, 8 p.m. 20
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Hoops on The Plains is not over after Auburn faces Kentucky in Auburn Arena on Saturday. At 3 p.m., head coach Robb Taylor and the Tigers’ wheelchair basketball squad is set to take on rival Alabama, and they want to see plenty of orange and blue in the stands of Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum for what they consider their biggest game of the season. The wheelchair basketball team loves and thrives on fan support. Auburn fans’ cheers bring excitement to the team and give the players a sense of pride. “Just that feeling of support is amazing, having the Auburn Family behind you," said No. 10 Luke Robinson. "Going into a game and seeing all those people who want to see you succeed that much gives us that much more confidence and energy to win for them."

Alabama is Auburn’s final opponent of this weekend's tournament, which is the last home tournament of the season for the Tigers. The Tigers faced the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Illinois on Friday afternoon, and they have a rematch against UW-Whitewater on Saturday at 11 a.m. before squaring up with the Crimson Tide in the afternoon. “As a school, we want to be better than Alabama in everything," said assistant coach Zach Dickey. "There’s a quote that says, ‘Alabama fans love Alabama football, but Auburn fans love Auburn.’ This is what Auburn is about, having the Auburn Family behind your back in everything."

The wheelchair basketball program hopes to replicate what head coach Bruce Pearl and the Auburn men’s standing basketball team are doing. There has been unrelenting support for Pearl’s team this season. Students began to line up in tents on Friday morning in 30-degree weather in anticipation of the game versus Kentucky on Saturday. Auburn Arena expects a sold-out crowd for that game. Everyone is aware of what’s going on with Pearl and the No. 2 men’s hoops team, and the fan base is as engaged as ever.

This kind of dedication and love is what the wheelchair basketball team wants to see from fans for them. “Auburn loves basketball," Dickey said. "You can see the culture growing around coach Pearl’s team. These guys [on our team] are working hard. We deserve support just as much as anybody else." No. 2 Sam Armas takes a shot in Auburn wheelchair basketball's game against University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum in Auburn, Ala. Auburn’s student section, referred to as The Jungle, has set a standard for college basketball fan environments. The crowd’s relentless noise and energy make Auburn Arena a tough environment for opposing teams. For this reason, Auburn has one of the biggest home-court advantages in college basketball. The wheelchair hoops team, with help from the fans, hopes to boast a home-court advantage of their own. “We play in a coliseum that holds 10,000 people, which is not something that many of our opponents see in many of their games. We have the potential to have a huge home-court advantage,” Dickey said. “We’re in the same place that Charles Barkley used to play in. It’s a special place to play.” The wheelchair basketball team wants that energy from The Jungle in the arena to carry over to their team. They feed off crowd noise just like any other basketball team, and more fans in the stands means the players feel more at home. “I love to see fans come and bring the energy," Robinson said. "We feed off that as players. You hit a shot and the crowd starts going crazy and it brings the energy into the next play and keeps the momentum going the whole game." Wheelchair basketball abides by rules similar to standing basketball, but the style of play is a unique experience for a first-time fan. “There are a lot of people who have never seen a wheelchair basketball game. Who wouldn’t want to go out and witness a new sport?” Dickey said. Dickey even compares the makeup of his team to that of Pearl’s squad. “I feel like we, as a team, are very similar to what Bruce Pearl’s team brings," Dickey said. "We have a great sixth-year head coach in Robb Taylor who has coached for Team USA’s wheelchair basketball team in the Paralympics. We have guys who push the ball up the floor quickly and are hard to stop. We’re a program on the rise." After the Tigers play Kentucky in Auburn Arena, Robinson and the team hope fans make the trip to Beard-Eaves Coliseum to cheer on the wheelchair squad as they take on the Crimson Tide. “The Iron Bowl is always our biggest game of the year," Robinson said. "It will be fun."

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