American wheelchair basketball player, Ryan Martin is setting up a wheelchair basketball programme at the City University of New York. He hopes that the programme at CUNY will be a major success in the US colligate division, much like Alabama and UTA. The New York Rollin’ Knicks guard spoke with Rollt.’s Dylan Cummings about the upcoming prospects of the project.
What do you hope to achieve by building a wheelchair basketball program at the City University of New York?
“The goal of the program is to live up to a commitment of universal design. Providing all students at the City University of New York students an opportunity at a higher education experience. Which includes our students with disabilities and the opportunity for them to compete in intercollegiate sports. The long term the goal is for this programme to help get more individuals with disabilities enrolled in university and upon their graduation make them more competitive in an increasingly difficult job market. Historically in the U.S. individuals with disabilities are less likely to attend college and achieve gainful employment. A successful intercollegiate adaptive sports programme augments enrollment of students with disabilities and helps break the cycle and shows the power of adaptive sports to serve as a catalyst of quality of life.”
How did this programme come about?
“I got involved in this space as a result of my work in the non-profit sector, the Ryan Martin Foundation. Within my foundation we were providing wheelchair camps, clinics, and were supporting two different junior programs (one in the U.S. and one in Spain.) As a manifestation of our mission we looked to use our resources to grow more collegiate programmes in the Northeastern corner of the US. The goal has always been more commitment to the concept of universal design and to get more individuals with disabilities into college. The data supporting the success level of people with disabilities who are involved in adaptive sports from a quality of life are quite compelling. So, this was a logical next step in ordnance with the mission statement of the Ryan Martin Foundation. I attended at United States Olympic Paralympic Committee (USOPC) meeting shortly after the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. I have done some consulting with the University of Michigan and Dr. Okanlami, as they have made tremendous strides in building their program in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The goal was to create more college campuses that were committed to providing adaptive sports opportunities. There I met with Zak Ivkovic who is the Executive Director to the City University of New York (CUNY AC) and we discussed ways to bring a programme to New York City.”
What plans have been put in place to (pun-intended) get the ball rolling with this project?
“We began running practices and clinics on different CUNY campuses. We first began an internal recruiting process starting in the 2019/20 academic year. CUNY has roughly 10,000 students with disabilities and engaging with that population to find prospective student athletes. Externally we have begun to recruit the New York City area. Recruiting potential student athletes who never went to college or those who needed an advanced degree. The goal is to be up and running by fall 2020.”
What’s the most appealing aspect about New York?
“It’s NEW YORK CITY! Long term we hope that CUNY becomes a place that international student athletes consider. New York City is the melting pot of the world and CUNY falls right in line with that. The strength of CUNY is its diversity and size. Our campuses allow for assimilation for international students from a language and cultural perspective. We look to help our student athletes upon graduation enter the employment space our CUNY leads programme has shown great success in placing our graduates with disabilities in the job market.”
How successful do you think this programme could be?
“There are several great collegiate programmes in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA). Programmes that has been successful on the court and in the classroom. CUNY hopes to join those ranks. As a programme we want to be judged on our ability to win games, moreover the success of our student athletes in the classroom and in the game of life. It’s bigger than basketball.”
How will you recruit athletes to the programme?
“Our goal is to recruit our campus and then our region. Beyond the wheelchair basketball piece CUNY Athletics is committed to providing opportunities for student athletes with disabilities (for example, Swimming, Track, and Tennis). There is sufficient precedent in the NCAA space for athletes with disabilities to compete in the pool or track, we want to make sure there is a commitment those students as well.”
What challenges have you faced in terms of logistics?
“There is always a challenge to getting off the ground. There is no other university that has the same critical mass and logistical challenges. The ultimate challenge will be establishing it to be a long-term viability.”
What challenges have you faced from an organisational standpoint?
“Just the learning curve of navigating some of the waters of higher education. My skills previously where in the non-profit organisational space (for example, fundraising, marketing, and social media). Now I’ve expanded to navigate the waters of admissions, enrollment management and advocacy internally.”
Do you think your programme could rival other programmes like Alabama and UTA?
“There are a lot of great programmes in the NWBA and a credit to all of the coaches of the established programmes who have mentored me through the early stages of the transition. Specially Coach Garner down at the University of Texas-Arlington and Coach Wheeler at the University of Illinois. Success for CUNY would need to be mentioned in the same light as the successful collegiate programmes that have a history of success.”
What’s your opinion on the setup of the colligate league in the US?
“The College division within the NWBA is a great thing and I hope it continues to grow. Having played in college at Southwest Minnesota State University and graduated. The game gave me so many opportunities and having my degree allowed me to capitalise on them. Progress will be getting more support for the intercollegiate adaptive sports from the NCAA. Right now, adaptive sports programs are operating in a manner similar to Women’s sports prior to Title IV. The USOPC has embraced adaptive sports and it’s my hope the NCAA won’t be far behind. I look forward to using the platform that I have within CUNY Athletics and the NWBA to continue to advocate for more inclusion of students with disabilities within the NCAA.”
You play for the New York Rollin’ Knicks alongside Patrick Anderson and Steve Serio, will they be involved in this programme in some way?
“I’ve had the tremendous opportunity to join the New York Rollin Knicks over the last few years and to finish my playing career in the NWBA. It’s been a surreal journey and a basketball odyssey one that was quite unexpected. Both Pat and Steve have been supportive of the efforts at CUNY. They both live in New York City and see the value of the programme long-term for people with disabilities. Our Knicks roster is full of former student athletes from across the NWBA collegiate landscape and we all get the big picture. Pat and Steve both are great ambassadors for the game and assuredly will have an impact on the game and community long after their playing days are done. They have been invaluable stewards of the game over the past few decades.”
How has playing for the Knicks benefitted your playing career?
“Candidly most of the teams I played on during my European career were middle of the road. I started playing in Getafe and we were a second division team. My college roommate, US Paralympian Josh Turek got me a tryout. I owe the opportunity to play out there to him getting me the opportunity and really teaching me how to be a professional. We played in the La Copa del Rey or Copa Europa during my time in Getafe. We always seemed to run into CD Ilunion or Amicacci Guillianova in the final. Playing with the Knicks has given me a chance to improve my basketball resume. As well giving me a platform in which to enhance my foundation’s junior programme model and increase the visibility of our efforts at CUNY.”
You played in Europe for a decade, what are the similarities and differences between the European and US leagues?
“Two different leagues, two different models, but both are a great product. The NWBA model is an amateur model while Europe is a professional one. They are similar because like in Europe, the NWBA D1 model is high level and showcases the sport in the right way. The NWBA is in a great place right now under the direction former US Paralympian and current CEO Will Waller. Our juniors, collegiate, and high-performance programmes are excelling. The visibility of our sports in the U.S. continues to grow and we are bringing more youth, veterans, and women into our sport! Our hope this continues to evolve as we lead up to the Los Angeles 2028 Paralympic Games.”
How would you describe your style of play?
“I think I’ve played every style of play a 2.0 can play. I’ve played on teams where I had to shoot/score the ball a high rate. I’ve played for teams where I’ve sat in the dive or had to seal in the big. I like to think I can adapt to whatever the team needs me to do to win. When you play professionally in Europe and you’re not a superstar you do what the team needs. My success was my ability to constantly adapt as rosters changed from season to season.”
Has anyone specifically influenced you to play the way you do?
“Playing with Josh Turek in Europe and training with him day in, day out probably had the greatest impact on me. His attention to detail and his willingness to show me how to maximise my skillset was invaluable. I think I’ve always tried to take a bits and pieces of a lot of players’ game whether it’s a training tip, a particular move, etc. I’ve had the pleasure of playing with or against some amazing athletes. Sometimes the best thing you can do is watch and just pick the brain of those who have figured it out.”
What pieces of advice have stuck with you throughout your career?
“Control what you can control. Make peace with all the rest. Put in the work. Period. Keep shooting!”
Finish this sentence. The City University of New York wheelchair basketball programme will be successful because…
“…we have a team of vested leaders who see the vision. Dr Chris Rosa and Zak Ivkovic have empowered me to build a program. The CUNY campuses are tailor made for an initiative like this due to the critical masses available in New York City. The fertile recruiting soil within the New York City area help make this possible. If this initiative can happen anywhere, it is in New York City.”
If you could do a training session with three other players from anywhere in the world male or female to improve your skills, which players would you choose and why?
“Excluding world class current and former teammates (i.e. Josh Turek, Steve Serio, Pat Anderson, and Jermelle Pennie): Dirk Passiwan because he’s the best wheelchair basketball shooter I’ve ever seen. Rose Hollermann because she’s just a straight up shooter. Joey Johnson because he’s Joey Johnson, enough said.”
Thanks for your time mate!
Rollt. would like to thank Ryan Martin for the interview.
Ryan Martin Profile
Date of Birth: 11/05/1979 (aged 40)
Hometown: Somers, Connecticut
Started playing: 1995
Disability: Spina Bifida and double-leg amputee
Current Club: New York Rollin’ Knicks, USA (2016-Present)
_Massachusetts Chariots, USA (1995-97)
_Southwest Minnesota State University, USA (1997-02)
_Phoenix Wheelchair Suns, USA (2002-06)
_Alcala, ESP (2006-07)
_Getafe BSR, ESP (2007-14)
_Hyeres Handibasket, FRA (2014-15)
_Clichy, FRA (2015-16)
_Back to Back NWBA National Champions with the New York Rollin Knicks
Interview: Dylan Cummings | Photo: Jose Manuel Martin