Coming off an undefeated season and ranking as the top team in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, the UTA Movin’ Mavs added three top recruits to their roster.
The addition of freshmen Amit Vigoda, Vincent Dallaire, and Aaron Summerill is helping to bolster a team that lost five seniors after the 2019-2020 season.
The freshmen played a big role in the season’s opening games, with Vigoda scoring 14 points and Summerill scoring 15 points in their debut against the University of Alabama. The team then faced the University of Auburn, winning 65-60 with Vigoda scoring 17 and Summerill scoring 19 points.
Although all three freshmen are different, their love for the game and dedication to helping this program grow is strong.
Dallaire said he started playing basketball at age seven, and he liked playing but didn't know that a high-level paralympic sport existed. He said at some point he thought he could possibly make it to a club team and eventually to where he is now.
Dallaire joined the Canadian National Paralympic Team where he gained life experience playing high-level wheelchair basketball and seeing things in a different light, which he feels can help his teammates.
“I just realized that around the team we have so many young guys that have never traveled, so they’ve only been used to one thing and just one way of seeing things,” he said.
Dallaire’s journey to UTA started with a conversation with longtime teammate David Eng, a former Movin’ Mav. Dallaire said he discussed the possibility of attending UTA to play basketball, and Eng pointed him in the direction.
“I didn't know much about UTA, and then definitely I started talking to David and he was like ‘Hey man if you can go there, might as well. It's a great opportunity,’” Dallaire said.
The road to playing basketball for Vigoda started in California at age 10 when he played for three years under Trooper Johnson, head coach of the U.S. women's national wheelchair basketball team, before moving back to Israel. Vigoda said there was a big difference in the game between the two countries.
“The big difference between Israel and the U.S. is that the U.S. is a much bigger country, so you have [many] more teams and the leagues are separated by ages,” Vigoda said. “In Israel because the country is so small and the disabled community is much smaller than the US, the league separates into three leagues.”
Since moving back to Israel at age 14, Vigoda said he’s had to go up against opponents that are older and at a higher skill level. But that set him up for success.
“I competed in international tournaments, in champions league against pro teams, players that used to play at the collegiate level,” Vigoda said. “I feel like the level that I can bring to the team is much higher than a regular recruit coming out of high school.”
After spending time in the U.S. and playing with the Israel National Paralympic Team, Vigoda said he knew he wanted to come back to play collegiately and further his education.
“From a young age I knew I wanted to come back here and compete and play in a collegiate level and continue to further my education and my basketball career,” he said.
Vigoda said he kept in contact with Johnson and that Johnson put in a recommendation to three universities: the University of Alabama, which didn’t work out, the University of Missouri and UTA. Vigoda ultimately chose UTA.
“The basketball level at UTA is much much higher, everything is much more professional,” he said. “I wouldn’t pass that opportunity.”
One of the things that factored into Vigoda’s decision to come to UTA was the team’s chemistry .
Chemistry was also an important reason why Summerill chose to play for the Movin’ Mavs. Summerill said when he toured the campus he bunked with a teammate and had the opportunity to talk to head coach Doug Garner and get his perspective on the team. He immediately liked the coach.
“I could see with all that he was doing, he was trying to really bring equality and inclusion to wheelchair athletes,” Summerill said.
Prior to playing for the Movin’ Mavs, Summerill played for the Wheelin' Jazz, the Division I Utah Jazz program, which helped him gain enough experience to play collegiately.
He started playing wheelchair basketball when he was 20 years old after connecting with Mike Schlappi, a four-time paralympic medalist playing for the USA Men’s Wheelchair Basketball team.
Summerill said he accepted an invitation to go practice with Schlappi, and when the practice ended he knew he wanted to continue playing basketball.
Basketball was a light in a dark time in Summerill’s life. He said basketball saved his life and helped in many ways.
“Wheelchair basketball — and I know a lot of people this is true for, especially for myself — it literally saved my life because I was in a dark place in a dark time,” Summerill said. “I got out of the funk I was in and started living my life.”
Summerill has played with the Jazz program for the past six years as well as working with the juniors program to help kids find their own path.
With the Movin’ Mavs coming off an impressive season and Summerill having an impressive debut, Summerill said he, Vigoda and Dallaire want to continue the winning tradition.
“We do remind ourselves of that all the time,” Summerill said. “I promise you the incoming freshmen do not want to be the reason or a part of the reason why we lost.”
Garner said he understands this program’s high expectations, and it makes him want to be better. Garner said it's also a high recruiting point and helps to bring out the best athletes.
As for the freshmen that joined the program this offseason, Garner said the veterans and freshmen can help each other because of the amount of experience they have.