Matt Scott poses in front of the Chula Vista Olympic & Paralympic Training Site. (Photo courtesy of Matt Scott)
Matt Scott is not just a world-class wheelchair basketball player. He’s an adventurer, and the game has satisfied his inner Indiana Jones, as he’s competed in five different continents throughout his career.
That adventurous nature also applies to the challenges he sets for himself. The latest was heading to a U.S. Paralympics Track & Field development camp at the Elite Athlete Training Center in Chula Vista, California, where the 37-year-old Detroit native tested his skill at field events like javelin and shot put.
Diagnosed with spina bifida at birth, Scott never tried any track and field sports growing up.
“I was singularly focused on basketball,” he said.
Scott started playing at 14, and the game has been good to him ever since. He made his first U.S. national team in 2003 while still in high school in Southfield, Michigan. The following year, he was on the plane to Greece for the Paralympic Games Athens 2004. The U.S. team finished seventh, but Scott and his teammates made steady improvements from there. The U.S. finished fourth in Beijing, took the bronze medal in London and won back-to-back gold medals in Rio and Tokyo.
The game gave him an education, as he won three NWBA collegiate division titles at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, as well as a career playing professionally in Turkey, Italy and Germany.
“I love wheelchair basketball. It’s something I’ve always dedicated my life to,” said Scott, who has taken a sabbatical from the national team this past year. He cautions not to read anything into that.
“Because I haven’t played on the national team for a year, I wouldn’t declare myself retired,” he said. “I don’t feel like I need to declare a status of whether I’m playing or whether I’m not playing on the national team.”
Now living in San Francisco where he has been working in Visa’s Champions Program, Scott travelled to Southern California in late September to see how far he could throw a 16-pound shot.
“I’ve dedicated myself to becoming an athlete. I just wanted to see if that was something in the cards for me and wanted to try it out,” said Team USA’s flag bearer at the Closing Ceremony of the Tokyo Games.
“They let you try pretty much everything,” Scott added, with a laugh, about the development camp. “If I could have long jumped, they would have let me try that as well.”
Scott went to Chula Vista with the intention of throwing, but he said the coaches helped lead athletes to whatever their best event might be.
“You kind of feel all the things out and the things you excel in the most, you get some special one-on-one time and training with high-performance coaches,” he said. “They test out what your best option might be.”
He left impressed with the level of coaching.
“It was cool to get the feedback and learn the technical skills from them,” he said, “because, not having any javelin or shot put background, it was important to soak up their knowledge and figure out something from the ground up.”
Scott even surprised himself with the experience.
“I went there thinking I was going to enjoy shot put a little more because I like to lift, and that seems like more of a brute force sport even though it’s very, very technical, but it’s about strength and I consider myself a very strong athlete,” he said. “I ended up leaving enjoying javelin the most. That’s a really fun sport. I saw an increase of my output every single day that I was there, and it was a more dramatic increase than in shotput.”
While improvement in the shot came in “millimeters,” he said he enjoyed the greater advances with the javelin.
“In shotput, you change this and it’s only going to increase by a little bit,” Scott said. “In javelin, if I change this, I’m throwing 20, 30 meters farther.”
Asked if he could reach Paralympic levels, Scott exhibited the same confidence that made him a world-class basketball player.
“One hundred percent, without a doubt,” he said.
Does this mean we’ll see Scott on the field instead of on a basketball court at the Paris Games two years from now?
“I guess time will tell,” Scott said. “There will be more camps down the road and that’s when I’ll have a proper classification. Then I would start throwing against my competition out there. That’s when we’ll see.”
Scott wouldn’t be the first wheelchair basketball player to venture into other sports. Many of the early Paralympians were multi-sport athletes. David Kiley, who has been a longtime mentor to Scott, won 13 Paralympic medals across wheelchair basketball, track and field and alpine skiing.
On the women’s side, Alana Nichols played in the Beijing and London Paralympics for the U.S. women’s basketball team, winning a gold medal in 2008. At Rio 2016, she returned as a paddler competing in paracanoe. She also competed in the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games, capturing five medals in alpine skiing.
As for whether Scott joins them, that’s still undecided.
“Right now, it’s just feeling out the waters,” he said. “I haven’t dedicated myself to it to the point where it’s Paris or bust. Right now, I don’t even know what my sights are set for. I just know that I do have some potential in the sport, and we’ll just take it from there.”