Adapting The Sport of Basketball At CUNY

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I recently had the chance to interview Ryan Martin, Team CUNY-Adaptive Men’s and Women’s wheelchair basketball program on Alex Garrett Podcasting!

You can watch the interview HERE : (

Below is an excerpt of our conversations thanks to Rev!

‘Alex Garrett: Growing up at the Henry Viscardi school around wheelchair basketball and head coach Joe Slaninka, to see the City University of New York Athletics department branch out into adaptive sports means the world. Ryan Martin men and women’s wheelchair basketball head coach of Team CUNY is with me now. Hi Ryan. Thanks for joining me.

Ryan Martin: Oh, no, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.

AG: So first of all, um, tell us your stories, how you became part of the wheelchair basketball world and, and became coach for CUNY.

RM: Uh, yeah, so you get the longer that journey becomes and the longer that story becomes, so I’ll give you the abridge version. Um, so I had the fortune, I started playing wheelchair basketball when I was a teenager. Um, I went on to, uh, play in college on a scholarship at, uh, Southwest Minnesota state university. Wheelchair basketball has really been, uh, you know, an awesome vehicle for me in life, as far as getting a chance to travel, getting my education and all of those things. And so, um, I ended up going to play professionally in Europe for several years. And so I played in Spain and France. When I came back to the US, I had already started my nonprofit, which was developing sports programs for youth with disabilities. I kind of got, um, thrusted into the intercollegiate space and did some work with university of Connecticut and then the university of Michigan. When CUNY reached out and Dr. Rosa reached out, it, it seemed like a really great opportunity just because the unique, uh, amount of students with disabilities that CUNY has and the potential, and a lot of, at a lot of universities, the critical mass of students with disabilities isn’t as profound as, as it is at CUNY. And so it was really interesting to me to be able to approach a strategic plan. Sure. That allowed us to like work with such a dense population already.

AG: Destini Murray, a Henry Viscardi School alumnus, started this whole project with CUNY. She’s a leader on that women’s wheelchair basketball team. Tell us about the women’s side first in their big weekend during the CUNY Collegiate Invitational.

RM: Yeah. So the, the women’s side, um, you know, Destini’s a huge part. We call Destini Harlem, right. You know, Destini brings a, a certain attitude to the game, but, as a player, you know, in our first year playing collegiate, she’s been improving leaps and bounds. And, um, all of the women are really making great strides and, and I think their team chemistry has really been awesome. And as, as things get a little more challenging and, you know, we’re adapting to this ever changing landscape in New York city, uh, they seem to be right there really supporting each other. I’ve been really happy with the, the chemistry that they’ve developed as a group.

AG: Let’s go to the men’s side. I mean, the men’s team seems to be defined by Chris St. Remy right now, but how much of a team effort is this? I mean, tell us about the overall, along with St. Remy. I mean, it’s a team effort there, not just him, right?

RM: Yeah. I mean, Chris, Chris is an exceptional player, like a world class, um, world class offensive player. Our team is really heavily reliant on him to score the ball, but like, you know, we’ve got guys that are taking on a larger defensive burden, so Chris can focus more on the offensive side. So it it’s definitely, um, a team game, but you know, this past weekend, he really had it going from an offensive standpoint. And like one of the things that makes Chris a really special offensive player is he is got the, kind of the ability to school or at all three levels you can shoot from the perimeter mid range. And you saw him do a considerable amount of work in the post where he just got inside. Um, and like when Chris is playing at his best, he’s doing a little bit of everything.

AG: Well, I gotta say Roger, you know, on the boards, the defensive boards were just one after the other. You guys had the rebounds one after the other.

RM:Yeah. And, and I mean, I thought this was the first time or that our, our CUNY men’s team has played against another, you know, collegiate program in Edinborough university, you know, and Edinborough is a well coached team with, um, you know, coach Jim glad a former USA coach and the director of high performance, for the N W B A. So like, they’re, they’re a well coached team, um, a very young team. And I thought we were able to take advantage on just, just overall execution and, um, and finding different things. And I mean, like, you know, we wrote the hot hand, but I, I would have to say that, like, you know, we had a lot of guys working for Chris, whether it was Dennis and Malke to get them into, you know, to get Chris into the spot. So as much as it’s it, you know, when I looked at the box for, yeah, Chris, I think he had 41 on the game on Sunday that you were there. I think that when we play other collegiate teams like Alabama, Missouri, and Texas, they’re gonna try to take Chris away and we’re gonna need other guys to make some shots. Most notably, probably Abdul, you know, I think Abdul’s got a skillset where he can really, um, he can really hurt you in a lot of ways. He’s just a super talented player. And if we did, like, you know, if we did combine testing of like, you know, speed agility, all of those sort of things, like he would test off the charts for our program. Like he’s just a really great athlete. And so, you know, the challenge that we have is trying to get some of those guys up to up to, what’s gonna be expected of them against better teams.

AG: And I know that this is CUNY wide, not just Queens college, all of the boroughs are pretty much represented with these teams. Are they not?

RM: Yeah. So we have athletes from 13 of the different, um, CUNY campuses. And so yeah, the idea was to, you know, provide this opportunity to do as many different students. And I think, um, you know, as we build out this strategic plan to include more sports and, um, you know, impact more boroughs and more campuses, I think it’ll be, uh, something where you see, you know, students from all of our CUNY schools involved.

AG: I wonder about the inclusivity, because I feel like, you know, these, these student athletes, they don’t see it as like an inspirational thing they wanna win. But to the out inside world, you know, people with disabilities doing things is inspirational yet. You guys are just smashing that stigma by winning and going hard. So maybe, uh, I don’t know. I think people need to come out and see this and say that, you know, this is more than just inspirational. This is for real, you know what I mean? That, that, that type of thing.

RM: I mean like sports is awe-inspiring, right? Whether you’re whatever the sport is, right. There’s a component of like, wow, I can’t do a 360 slam dunk. Right. Or I can’t throw the javelin that far or whatever the sport is. Right. So a little bit of it is, but I, I think the, the issue that we get into in the adaptive world space is kind of like that INSPO-porn, like where it’s like, oh my God, it’s motivational because like, oh, you threw up a shot and it hit the bottom of the net where like me from a competitive mindset is like air ball to shot, let’s react accordingly. Um, and, and I think once people can frame it in the way that they frame sports in general, I think it’s better off because I, I also think, you know, like sports is a great catalyst for societal change.

You know, like when you look at, you know, Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, you know, and, and a lot of different like social climate changes that work impacted by sports. I think the Paralympic sports movement in general can change kind of the paradigm of what we anticipate for people with disabilities. Right. You know, and I always make the argument that if I can change your perspective on the Paralympic movement from a sporty modality, can I change how you view somebody with a disability in the same classroom, in same office environment. And, and I think that is the, the, you know, the long term, um, benefits to, you know, Paralympic sports.

AG: Now I’m sure you know, that Malkeet and Destini, I mean, they were, they’ve been doing this since they were kids through the Viscardi system and whatnot. And so for me to see it from HVS to Queens, college is like, wow. A concept that I grew up with is now making it mainstream. That’s very special.

RM: Uh, just means a lot of work ahead, you know, I am proud of our, our student athletes and, and the community that supports it, you know, the University at large, from the Chancellor on down. And I think, uh, we’ve made great strides, I’m proud of our athletes for what they’ve been able to accomplish now, you know, and, and, you know, all of them have done really well academically. Right. Which is kind of the, you know, what I really stress to them is, you know, we need you to be a student athlete and you, you know, basketball’s gonna take you so far. That CUNY degree from, you know, Queens college or Hunter, wherever it may be, is gonna be the more important thing. So, I think we’ve, we’ve done a great job in starting to build the culture and establish on that.

AG: On that note, Ryan, thanks so much for joining and, uh, we want more and more people with eyeball on this sport. Cause it not only adapting, you know, for, for those in the community, but for the outside too, it’s something to, to learn from and, and enjoy also.

RM: Yeah, absolutely. And I appreciate you taking the time to set this up and look forward to continual conversation as the season, uh, goes along here and

Alex Garrett podcasting, where we’re always adapting!’

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