The U.S, Mens' Wheelchair Basketball Team celebrates winning gold at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 5. 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
TOKYO – Team USA men’s wheelchair basketball won gold in a thrilling gold medal matchup with Japan on Sunday at Ariake Arena.
The stage was set for an epic final team competition of the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020; Team USA, the defending gold medalists, versus Japan, the host nation making their first Paralympic gold medal game appearance.
The U.S. got off to a slow start with Japan’s Reo Fujimoto dominating the score line with nine points. A three-point shot at the buzzer by Jake Williams tied the game 18-18 after the first quarter. The Americans took the lead for the entire second quarter, coming in 32-27 at the half.
In the third quarter, the U.S. and Japan went basket-for-basket with Japan squeaking ahead 46-45. Jake Williams scored a few key baskets in the fourth that proved to be the turning point for Team USA. The back-to-back medalists closed out a tough final to win it all 64-60.
“I'm just excited to be here with the boys, my brothers,” Trevon Jenifer said. “This is what we trained for. We trained for this moment, and I'm just blessed enough to have that moment and my teammates put me in a position to be successful. So, I went out there, do what I had to and now we’re the gold medalists, baby.”
Japan played inspired throughout their first medal game appearance for wheelchair basketball. They made sure the accomplished U.S. team had to work for the gold.
“A gold medal isn’t supposed to be won easily,” said Matt Scott, a five-time Paralympian and two-time gold medalist. “Nobody's here on accident. They deserve to be here, and they played extremely well. It went down to the wire. These are the two best teams in the world at the moment. Japan played an incredible, incredible game.”
Scott said he enjoyed playing against a team that mirrored their playing style. And for the U.S., defense was key to winning gold in Tokyo.
“Well, defense wins championships, but in this case, defense wins gold medals,” said Steve Serio, two-time Paralympic gold medalist. That's been our identity from day one. We're going to have off shooting days. You're going to do everything right, but the ball is just not going to drop. But you can always play good defense. You can always communicate.”
Serio put up the highest point total for Team USA with 28 points follow by Jake Williams with 13. Jennifer was a force on defense with four rebounds and three steals. He agreed with Serio that communication was key in securing the back-to-back golds.
“It's all about communication; communication from every point, every person, even from the bench,” Jenifer said. “That's the only way I'm in the positions that I'm in or out here. Like I said, we've been together for a while now. And I'm just excited. We're just loving life.”
Rookie John Boie held his own as a starter, playing a full game and scoring four points for the red, white and blue. He and Jorge Sanchez were the only two first-time Paralympians on the team. For Boie, playing with this squad was a dream come true.
“You know, a lot of these guys this is their second one back-to-back,” Boie said. “For me to come in and play the role that I did as a class one, it means a lot. I know that the expectation is really high. And so that I was able to meet that and help them in this way. It means the world to me. This has been my dream to be part of this group of guys. I’m playing alongside people I looked up to as a kid. It's very special.”
The journey was especially meaningful for Scott, who has one last role for Team USA in Tokyo. He was announced as the Team USA flag bearer in Sunday’s closing ceremony. He planned to carry the American flag proudly into Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium with his second career Paralympic gold medal around his neck.
“The athletes that I'll be leading are all so courageous,” Scott said. “Everybody here that competed at the Games this year are courageous. The resilience that we've all had to show in the last 18 months is just incredible. So, to be chosen to be the face of that and hold the flag high when I leave this is incredible. Being able to do so in style with the gold medal around my neck says it all.”
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo-2020-Paralympic-Games to view the medal table and results.