Lake Norman & Mooresville

Kiley, Team USA pass early test for 2012 Paralympics

The buzzer sounded and a relieved David Kiley rolled down the bench area, high-fiving each member of Team USA's women's wheelchair basketball team.

They earned another gold medal for Kiley.

Benefiting from a dominant fourth quarter by Becca Murray in a game Aug. 13, Team USA rallied to upend Japan, 62-47, in the championship game of the International Tournament Of Champions at Lake Norman Charter High School in Huntersville.

After the awards, everyone associated with the two international wheelchair powers came together for an impromptu photo op. What better way to symbolize the four-day event?

The first of its kind in the region, the tournament attracted 250 of the sport's top athletes and several highly ranked men's and women's squads. It was considered a prime tuneup for the 2012 London Paralympics.

"That's the bigger prize," said Kiley, 58, a Mooresville resident who is recognized as one of the top wheelchair athletes of all time, voted into the National Wheelchair Basketball Association Hall of Fame in 2000. "This team has only been together for a week. This will help us prepare."

A U.S. National Team competitor from 1975-2000, Kiley earned Paralympic men's basketball gold medals in 1976 Toronto and 1988 Seoul. In his second season as women's national coach, Kiley guided the club to a 5-0 mark in the recent elite event.

Spearheaded by NWBA President Richard Bryant, the first-year tournament was praised by the international visitors.

"(Bryant) made this happen," Kiley said.

Attendance was boosted by busloads of children arriving from Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatics and Huntersville Parks and Recreation. NWBA donated the tickets, organizers said.

"It was great," Netherlands women's captain Cher Korver said. "It is a great warm-up for the European championships." Korver said the Netherlands squad visited Northlake Mall during the stay.

Kiley said the economic impact of the event on the region was significant.

"Dick (Bryant) and I talked about it," Kiley said, referring to the president of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. "The hotels, restaurants. Two hundred and 50 athletes and the support staff. I think it would be substantial."

Hiroaki Kouzai, of Japan's men's team, was asked if he would like to return to play in the event. Despite his team going winless, Kouzai flashed a smile: "I like this tournament ... besides the results."

USA Blue captured the men's division, going 6-1. USA white went 3-4.

"We had an up-and-down tournament," said Brian Bell, of Birmingham, Ala., citing top competition and narrow losses for USA White. "I think it's been a successful tournament. I think it has a good chance of coming back."Kiley said there is a chance the area could host a similar International Tournament Of Champions event in the future.

"I would like to see it every two years," Kiley said.

In the meantime, at least, Kiley was able to bask in another gold-medal performance.

Interviewing outside in the hot Huntersville sun, Kiley joked: "Bad time to be without my sunglasses."

"You are a star, you know," someone responded.

"No, the team," Kiley said. "They are the star."