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After Recovering From Life-Threatening Illness, Matt Scott Is Focused On His Fourth Parapan American Games

By Melissa Zhang | July 18, 2019, 5:27 p.m. (ET)

Matt Scott of wheelchair basketball at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016.
In addition to playing for the national team, Scott plays professionally for a wheelchair basketball team in Germany, which is where he fell ill recently. 

Of the athletes named to the 2019 U.S. Men’s National Wheelchair Basketball Team roster, one in particular had to fight through a harrowing journey to make it onto this year’s squad.

Four-time Paralympian Matt Scott’s basketball career almost ended last November, when he suddenly felt ill while playing for a team in Germany. Scott requested to go to the hospital, where he passed out in the emergency room while waiting to be treated by a doctor.

He was in a coma for seven days due to a severe septic shock that had caused multiple organs, including both of his lungs, to fail.

“It was about as scary of a situation as I can possibly imagine,” the Detroit native said. “When I woke up, the first thing I was thinking was, ‘Can I play basketball anymore? How messed up am I?’" 

Scott spent a total of four months in the hospital, with two weeks being in the Intensive Care Unit. Although he was thousands of miles from the United States, he still felt the support of his team back home.

“It’s been life-changing in the sense that I now understand the amount of support I have. The national team was always letting me know that whatever I needed, they could make it happen.


“All of my teammates would tell me, you're going to come back stronger from this, this is just a setback. That's super important because there was a chance I wouldn't be able to put my USA jersey back on. That encouragement from everybody got me through it much easier.”  


Despite his extended stay in the hospital, Scott’s mind quickly went back to basketball.

He reached out to the team’s strength and conditioning coach, Katie McClosky, who helped him find ways to regain his strength while still in the hospital.

“[Katie] would draw things up for me all the time, exercises that involved resistance bands or doing push-ups in my hospital bed,” Scott said. “When I got out, I felt like I hit the ground running. I was ready.”

Despite people suggesting that he take a break from basketball to recover, Scott was determined to get back into his old routine.

“I felt like basketball was very much taken from me, when I had been laying in the hospital for forever. Right now, when I'm training, I feel like I'm taking time for myself. This is what I love to do." 


In May, Scott arrived at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) held the 2019 Toyota Team USA Men’s Selection Camp.


Scott has played for the national team since 2004, going through a national team tryout each year. But the 34-year-old had never been as nervous as he was this year.


“It was nerve-racking. I had to prove to myself that I could bounce back from what I went through in the fall, so it wasn't like a normal tryout for me,” Scott said. “I know I went through a lot, but I knew that I could do it. I really put a lot into this tryout.” 

At the end of the camp, the NWBA announced the team that would be competing in Lima at the 2019 Parapan American Games. Scott’s name was on the list.

Scott now lives at the Training Center along with a few of his teammates, training with McClosky and getting ready for Lima.

“It's really cool to be here alongside a lot of the Olympians and Paralympians who have the same set of goals in mind,” Scott said. “You wake up and you just see the look on people's faces, like they're going to get it, so you should probably get in that same mindset too. It's really motivating to be here.” 

Although he said he might not be back to 100 percent yet, Scott said he’s making steady progress.

“I'm definitely getting there. I think the reason why I'm progressing so rapidly and efficiently is because I'm able to train alongside these guys,” Scott said. “We're all focused on growing and individually improving so we can make each other better and in turn, Team USA looks a lot better. We have that sort of mantra going on in the locker room and I think the team has its highest comradery right now that it has ever had.”


This will be Scott’s fourth appearance at the Parapan American Games, after helping the United States claim three consecutive gold medals at the Parapan Am Games at Toronto 2015, Guadalajara 2011 and Rio 2007.


The men will be hoping to qualify for the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 through their results in Lima.


“There are good teams, like Argentina, Canada, Mexico and Brazil, that we should be a bit more wary of. But we're going to go into it respecting everybody,” Scott said. “I think going into Lima, we're going to see the hungriest team that we've had. We need to show up and show everybody what we can do, and I'm really excited for it.”