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Fifth-seeded Eastern Washington wheelchair basketball team ready for NCAA tourney

UPDATED: Thu., March 11, 2021

Eastern Washington wheelchair basketball coach David Evjen is juggling feelings of excitement and uncertainty.

Even a little bit of nostalgia.

The Eagles open the NWBA Collegiate Wheelchair Basketball National Championships – hosted by the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa – on Friday, the beginning of a double-elimination tournament.

This is a different flavor of March Madness.

From its Toyota sponsorship, state-of-the-art facilities, to being welcomed to the big Tuscaloosa school with a big EWU logo in the gym, it has some of the glamour of a major tournament.

But, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the fifth-seeded Eagles – a first-year team – aren’t just starting their national tournament when they face No. 4 seed Southwest Minnesota State at 8 a.m. Friday.

EWU is essentially starting its season, too.

Due to several cancellations, EWU only participated in three scrimmages. With several teams backing out of the national tournament due COVID-19 concerns, the Eagles jumped at the invite.

“The biggest challenge will just be the pace of the game,” Evjen said. “We’ll quickly see where we stack up.”

Southwest Minnesota State, among the first colleges in the country to sponsor a wheelchair basketball team in the 1990s, takes on a EWU team that’s not even one year into the pursuit.

The Midwest school is also where Evjen played in college and formerly coached, ultimately leading him on his career path.

One of EWU’s primary ballhandlers, Spokane Valley native Trayton Dwyer, also played a season for Southwest Minnesota State before transferring home.

“They’re a long and established program,” Evjen said.

The winner will face No. 1 University of Texas-Arlington later in the day.

Just five teams are in the tournament, including Texas-Arlington, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Auburn, Southwest Minnesota State and EWU.

Another one of EWU’s main ballhandlers, Spencer Kimbro, formerly played at Alabama, winning a national title as a freshman.

During its exhibition, EWU was paced by Post Falls native Tyler Hinshaw, a single-leg amputee and inside force who averaged roughly 25 points a game.

Now the real tests begin.

“We want to use this as a learning curve to see where we are,” Evjen said. “So far, it’s been great. The aesthetics of this make it feel like it’s a very important tournament, which is important for us.”

Games will be streamed live on crimsontideonline.com.

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