What do you get when you mix a passion for teaching and a love for basketball? The answer is the University of Illinois Men's Wheelchair Basketball Coach, Matt Buchi. At the age of 29, Matt is one of the youngest college wheelchair basketball head coach in the United States. Matt is also a past Department of Human Services, Division of Rehabilitation (DRS) customer.
Matt's story is one of working hard and battling from a very early age. At 9 years old he sustained significant injuries from a car accident, the result of which was a spinal cord injury and paraplegia. He spent a full year rehabilitating. But it wasn't till he returned back to school that he started to gain an interest in sports.
Wheelchair Basketball became an outlet for many kids with disabilities in Michigan, where Matt is from. "There were a few kids in wheelchairs at my school that participated in Wheelchair track. After meets, most of the kids would shoot around on an outdoor hoop at the track. The track coach decided to start a team." Matt describes his first experience with the sport "The first time a saw a practice, I rolled in, just in time to see two kids slam into each other for a loose ball. Though my mom was hesitant to let her son who just healed from a car accident participate in something that had so much contact, I immediately knew that this sport was for me."
Matt says that for him wheelchair basketball wasn't just for the sport. "It ended up that wheelchair basketball took the place of my physical therapy (PT) completely, gave me the opportunity to travel the country on tournaments, interact with so many people with disabilities and eventually even offered the chance to play at the University of Illinois after high school".
Matt was accepted into the Recreation Sports Tourism (RST) program at the U of I while also playing wheelchair basketball. After graduation, he not only started a Masters in Education, but was also named the Assistant Coach of the men's and women's wheelchair basketball teams.
While pursuing his educational degree Matt began to contemplate a change to coaching. That's when he met with DRS Counselor Piedad Arias-Hutchison for consultation. Matt says the services Piedad provided were extremely helpful in mapping out a plan. "It was great to know that DRS would be there for me in a supportive role when I needed them. Piedad was a big help". Matt inevitably went on to coach in Alabama, Oklahoma, and Vancouver British Columbia. One of his biggest honors was to be Assistant Coach for Team USA Women's Wheelchair basketball from 2009 to 2012 where he and the team represented the United States in the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Finally in the summer of 2013, at the age of 28, Matt was hired into his dream job as the head coach of the University of Illinois Men's Wheelchair Basketball Team. Matt understands and embraces the role of a head coach. "Not only do I coach my players on the court, but off the court as well. I always make sure that they have connected with DRS when they arrive so that they can receive the services I received as well as helping students with disabilities adjust to campus life and receive the counseling and student disability services they need to be successful. I feel like I am in a position to help others by sharing my success story".
Matthew Buchi is as much of a coaching success off the court as he is on the court.
DHS' Division of Rehabilitation Services is the state's lead agency serving individuals with disabilities. DRS works in partnership with people with disabilities and their families to assist them in making informed choices to achieve full community participation through employment, education, and independent living opportunities.
To learn more, call 1-877-761-9780 Voice, 1-866-264-2149 TTY, (312) 957-4881 VP, or read about DRS's Services. Refer yourself or someone else for services using the online Rehabilitation Services Web Referral.