By Tessa Sechler
Just outside L.A. Live and Staples Center on April 12, a day filled with basketball clinics and games was underway. While the NCAA All-Americans would attend the College Basketball Awards later that evening at the Novo, during the day they showed off their basketball IQ and expertise as coaches for future fans.
The first of those fans were a part of Special Olympics Southern California. Special Olympics Unified teams (made up of people with and without intellectual disabilities) and traditional Special Olympics teams began warming up, all awaiting college basketball stars Zion Williamson, Grant Williams, RJ Barrett, Ja Morant and Cassius Winston from the men’s team and Napheesa Collier, Megan Gustafson, Sabrina Ionescu, Asia Durr and Teaira McCowan from the women’s team.
Cardboard cutouts surrounded the venue, but the real excitement didn’t kick in until the players actually stepped onto the court.
“We did love meeting the players,” said UCLA Unified partner Pria Daniel with Special Olympics athlete Katy Hoffman. “I can’t even explain it, it’s just such an incredible program. Everyone gets to be peers and hangout.”
The Special Olympics athletes were split up into four stations where they worked on shooting, dribbling, passing and rebounding with their NCAA role models by their sides. After the stations, the All-Americans were broken into two groups and each assigned to one side of the court where they coached the teams.
The whole morning was full of constant high-fives and laughter, with cheering to be heard all the way from the parking lots. As the teams completed passes, made lay-ups, played lockdown defense, players like Williams, Winston and Ionescu couldn’t hold themselves back from jumping up and down and running onto the court every time one of their players made a play.
For partners like Pria, that interaction is what it’s all about. “It’s so fun. It’s awesome for them to be able to meet these guys. They’re so awesome and friendly to everybody.”