“At the end of the day, it's just basketball.”
For DeKalb senior AJ Hummer, it's Hoosier Hysteria with a twist. Or rather, a spin. He and brother Isaac recently signed their national letters of intent to attend the University of Texas-Arlington and receive scholarships to play for the Movin' Mavs wheelchair basketball team.
The Hummers have fought for the opportunity, even from birth. Joining sister Kendra, the Hummer triplets arrived 14 weeks early, each weighing less than two pounds at birth. AJ and Kendra received an early diagnosis of cerebral palsy, a movement disorder that affects about 1 in 500, while Isaac received two shunts in the brain to combat hydrocephalus, an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain that can cause learning disabilities and problems with coordination and memory.
While football runs in the Hummer family – AJ, Kendra and Isaac's father, Jim, will enter his fifth season as Fremont's head coach this fall, and his 24th overall, while their grandfather, Dale, guided the Barons football team to a state title in 1986 – basketball provided a more accessible way to fulfill AJ's need to express athleticism from an early age.
“I tried baseball, I tried some different sports but nothing really compared to wheelchair basketball,” AJ said. “I got that competitive nature from both of my parents, and it just translated.”
AJ, now in his 11th season playing the sport, started with the Turnstone program. His cerebral palsy primarily manifested in the lower half, causing his legs to tire easily. But a work ethic honed by chores on the family farm coupled with a love of basketball have proved a winning combination.
“Everything I have, I've worked my tail off,” AJ said. “It's just natural to me, whether it's doing chores or making sure that things are in good shape growing up on a farm. It's just the way it's been. I'm not going to just sit around and expect everything to be handed to me.”
When watching wheelchair basketball, the physicality stands out almost immediately. Violent collisions and flipped chairs happen with amazing regularity, a trait that kept Isaac from pursuing the sport until his freshman year.
Because of the hydrocephaly, and with two shunts still in his brain, Isaac must remain cautious against any sort of head trauma. As he's continued to play, however, his comfort level has also increased.
“That's the big reason I was skeptical about playing,” Isaac said. “I didn't really want anything to happen to me. I flip almost every single day when I practice, but I got used to the chair. You just shake it off.”
Even now, the fight to play continues for AJ and Isaac. With five seniors graduating after their sophomore year, Turnstone didn't have enough players to compete. The Hummers ultimately joined the RHI Racers program from Indianapolis, making trips each Sunday to Indianapolis to practice with the team or traveling across the country to participate in tournaments.
The state capital will simply serve as the journey's halfway mark this weekend, as the RHI Racers will take part in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association national tournament. The 70th annual NWBT, contested in Louisville every year since 2013, tipped off Thursday and runs through Sunday.
With multiple adult and youth level tournaments, the event draws some of the world's best players.
“Watching these guys perform is just amazing,” AJ said. “The whole atmosphere is just awesome. There's just so much going on, and you get to meet a lot of new people. It's always a good time.”