To most fans, the basketball season started in October with the NBA, and last month, players at the college and high school levels dusted off their sneakers. But for the Golden State Road Warriors and most teams in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA), the season started Saturday.
Coach Paul Jackson, a Milpitas resident, has seen the Road Warriors grow from a bottom feeder in the NWBA to a powerhouse, ranking fifth in the nation.
The team started out its season in dominant fashion, kicking off the Bill and Julie Duncan Memorial Tournament at San Jose State's Memorial Wheelchair Basketball Tournament with a 66-48 win over the Phoenix Banner Wheelchair Suns.
After the big win, with his magnetic basketball diagram board on his lap, Jackson looked up at his team and smiled, saying, "Yes, that's a good way to start."
Despite the convincing victory–the team started the game with a 10-2 lead and never trailed in the game–Jackson would not allow himself or his team to get comfortable. If his team had a string of sloppy plays, he would call a timeout to calm down his team. Twenty-point lead or not, it did not matter to Coach Jackson. He seemed to expect the best from the squad.
After the Arizona team made a basket thanks to a missed defensive assignment, Jackson stood up and yelled out, "Keep your chair back! You've got to roll your chair back!" He took the opportunity to teach his players on the bench what went wrong.
This attention to detail is what has helped Jackson succeed throughout his basketball career. He was introduced to the game of basketball in elementary school but became serious once he hit high school.
"I played for Rutherford High School, where I was heavily influenced by Dick Vitale, who coached at East Rutherford at the time," Jackson said of the then-young, former college and NBA coach. "He would pick me up and coach me."
After high school, Jackson went on to play college basketball at Bentley College before moving to California and working at Tyco Electronics. It was at Tyco in 1977 that Jackson was introduced to wheelchair basketball.
"I got involved when my boss at Tyco Electronics got me involved. He really tricked me into coaching wheelchair basketball. I didn't know it was wheelchair basketball until finally I came to a practice and saw all of these athletes in chairs."
With Jackson leading the bench, the team's fortunes drastically changed. When he joined the Road Warriors —then called the 76ers—the team was in the bottom 10 in the wheelchair-basketball rankings. With Jackson, the team won the national championship in 2001 and 2004 and is regularly invited to play halftime at Golden State Warrior games.
Jackson has done this by setting his expectations the way he would his basketball team at Milpitas High. He teaches the importance of free throws, a patient offense and a determined defense.
"There is no difference in the way I coach this team," he said. "It's a teaching situation, and if you continue to teach, some positive reinforcement will come out of it."
Jackson's list of achievements include two gold medals as the assistant and head coach of the USA National Wheelchair basketball team and many Final Four finishes in National Wheelchair Basketball championships. His biggest individual accomplishment happened in March 2007 when he was inducted into the NWBA Hall of Fame.
"It's an honor to learn from a guy with so much experience," said Chuck Gil, the team captain, who was recruited by Jackson in 1991 and is a vital part of the team's success, "He's very deserving of being in the hall of fame."