Tide Tandem Aims to Lead Men's Wheelchair Basketball Team to Another National Title

Alabama Athletics
Jonathan Anderson

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It's all about national championships at Alabama, especially for the programs that have already won one, never mind three.  

It knows a few things about what it takes. The formula for reaching the collegiate pinnacle of success includes talent, relentless effort, and infectious energy. But most importantly, championship teams requires leadership.

It's just as true in wheelchair basketball as any other sport. 

With the 2019-20 season having just begun, and the Crimson Tide looking to raise a banner for a fourth time (2013, 2017, 2018) despite having to replace five talented players, two seniors who have known each other a long time are hoping to do just that.

Their friendship also started long before they took to the Stran-Hardin Arena floor together.

Abraham Hausman-Weiss grew up in nearby Birmingham. His sporting career began at the age of five at the Lakeshore foundation where he participated in track and field under coach Kevin Orr. 

Orr was a foundational piece in the start of the youth adapted athletics program at Lakeshore, going on to become a gold medal coach for Team USA Quad Rugby before moving to become the coach for Team Canada.

“He wasn’t just my track coach, he was also a huge mentor of mine,” Hausman-Weiss said. “He was just a big, big influence on me growing up. [Him] being an individual athlete in a wheelchair, an adapted athlete, he showed me how to conduct myself off the court or off the track as a disabled athlete to make a good impression and to represent the disabled sports community well.”

At six, Hausman-Weiss’s parents took him to watch the Pioneer Classic, a wheelchair basketball tournament hosted at Lakeshore. By the end, Hausman-Weiss was begging his parents to sign up.

“I ended the afternoon crying to my parents because it looked like so much fun out there and I just wanted to play. It spoke to me as much as it could speak to a six-year-old.”

The next year, Hausman-Weiss was on the court.

“It was just a fun thing to do for the first three years, didn’t start really getting really serious for me until my fourth year playing. Enter Rashad.”

Rashad Bennett grew up with a degenerate disability, a genetic one that his mother and grandmother shared. Growing up in a city school, Bennett didn’t know much about wheelchair sports until he moved schools in the sixth grade. At his new school, he began working with a physical therapist when his disability began to worsen.

“My physical therapist’s husband played wheelchair basketball, so that’s how I was introduced,” Bennett said. “It changed my life.”

Skeptical at first, Bennett’s mom took him to Lakeshore just to see what it was all about.

“At first, I really didn’t want to get into wheelchair play,” Bennett said. “I was in the mindset that getting in a wheelchair would lessen me as a person. It’s just youthful thinking. But I rolled in the door and saw the kids hitting each other and falling and it looked like they were having fun. So, I hopped in a chair and tried it.”

Bennett’s relationship with Hausman-Weiss began in that first game, with his first shot, and his first push.

“Once I got in a chair, I felt equal,” Bennett said. “I think that’s the first time I had felt that in my life. Up until that point I was always slower than everyone else because I had a limp. I was always last to get somewhere, last to be picked for sports but the wheelchair kind of liberated me when I was 11, 12 years old.”

Bored over the summer when he didn’t have basketball, Bennett trained, perfecting his form. The next summer, he took on track and field, which he participated in from the age of 13 to 19. Both Bennett and Hausman-Weiss were told they could make the Paralympics with track and field, but both decided that their love of basketball and freedom to have a normal childhood outweighed the chance.

Approaching graduation, both Hausman-Weiss and Bennett held offers to continue their careers at a number of Division I schools. Ultimately however, the decision seemed to be made for them.

“I went to a couple of schools and this felt the most like home,” Bennett said. “It felt like the guys here laughed with each other and messed with each other in a way that at other schools they didn’t. They didn’t feel as brotherly, it didn’t feel as correct.”

Hausman-Weiss had narrowed his decision to two, Illinois and Alabama, as he made his visit to Alabama in February of his senior year.

“I had wanted to go to Illinois since I was 10,” Hausman-Weiss said. “All my role models had gone there and everybody I knew that did well. I came in February and I was really hoping to hate it. Just hate it, make my decision to go to Illinois, get this over with, this was stressing me out. So I went, and I couldn’t hate it, I kind of fell in love with it. I couldn’t name a bunch of reasons, it just felt right.”

Now, both players are seniors, members on both of the previous two national championship teams, and hoping to lead a young team to a three-peat. They each bring a different mentality to leadership and their messages transcend the world of adapted athletics.

“Every day is about getting better,” Bennett said. “You don’t want to leave a practice not thinking you gave it 100%. You don’t want to come in and push or shoot 50% you want to come in and take shots you would take in a game and push as hard as you would in a game. I want our decision making to be better than it was the day before. If you throw this bad pass yesterday I want you to think about that, not internalize, but think about what could I do better next time. I want you to leave this practice with some form of knowledge that you didn’t have before you got here. If we do that, I feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”

“I think the biggest thing is going to be confidence across the entire team,” Hausman-Weiss said. “For us to believe that we are capable, for the leaders to believe we are capable of being sufficient leaders and the younger guys to believe that they are not the weak links.”

The Crimson Tide opened its season with the Press Ganey Tipoff Tournament in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 1, when Alabama finished 3-0, defeating Auburn, ABC Medical, and Memphis. Next up is this weekend's Hollister Open, which tips off today at Stran-Hardin Arena  where there's always more room for more banners.  t