Southwest Minnesota State University wheelchair basketball coach Lew Shaver has been part of the game at the highest levels of international competition several times as an assistant coach.
This fall, he will make the journey again, but as the head coach of the United States' men's U23 national team that will travel to Adana, Turkey on Sept. 12, 2013 for the fifth U23 Men's World Championship.
It is there that Shaver is looking to start the process of bringing American wheelchair basketball back to prominence in the international game.
"We haven't done that well. Our women did well for the last couple, but in London didn't medal," Shaver said. "We're in a transition and what we are trying to do is develop the model. How should a tryout camp look, what's the criteria?
"So, as our executive director put it, we don't just select someone and give them the car keys. There's some guidance there, there's a model there to follow. This, in essence, is the initial model toward that, toward [the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro]. I'm back into an organizational pattern that I hope is successful and the outcome will be that we do develop that model."
Shaver was one of 10 applicants and five that made the interview process for the position in early October.
After being selected by the National Wheelchair Basketball Association's High Performance Committee, he began the process of selecting his staff. Shaver said that coaches Doug Garner and Trooper Johnson fit perfectly into his strengths and weaknesses.
"I bring strengths, and like everyone else, deficits. Part of my deficit is technology," Shaver said. "I don't know what an iPad is. My son tells me my cell phone came across on the Mayflower. I don't text and I'm going to keep it that way.
"The committee said, obviously, when you test you need someone to crunch the numbers, that when you do statistics, that they can compute the data you need. Their second recommendation was that we needed someone younger who has been through the international game rather recently and yet is a good teacher. My selections were based on those criteria."
Then the real work began.
Shaver and his staff had to narrow down the top 32 wheelchair basketball players under 23 to a squad of 18.
"We spent about two and a half, almost three days (with them)," Shaver said. "We cut 14 to make our number 18, and those 18 will move on to our training camp situation."
When Shaver came into the camp, he knew his job wasn't going to be easy and he wanted the 32 players to make his job even more difficult.
"That was the message that I almost immediately sent to the kids, 'You need to make my task as difficult as possible,' and they did," Shaver said. "Even up and to the very last moment we had to really select the 18, I was still going out and watching scrimmages."
But he didn't rely on just what he witnessed on the court.
"I had listened to my staff. We had tested them, so we had rank-ordered them in terms of their skill level," Shaver said. "Much like football and basketball does with the combine, we have a battery of tests that we administer and then we get an idea of rank-order."
But unlike football and basketball where the goal is to put the best players on the court or field at all times, wheelchair basketball adds a very different aspect to putting together a team.
"In wheelchair basketball we have classification system. That also plays a rather prominent role in how many you select," Shaver said. "You have to have the right numbers because the international game has a 14-point system on the floor."
To add another degree of difficulty, the international point system is different than the one he uses to select the Mustang players on the court at any given time at the collegiate level.
At the international level, a minimally-disabled athlete is classified as a 4.5, and the number gets smaller as the degree of disability is increased. For example, a paraplegic with a complete injury below the chest would be classified as a 1.
"It's the same point total, but the international classification has 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, on up through 4.5, where in the United States we have 1, 2, 3 and 4," Shaver explained. "I told the kids, you have to be a mathematician and that's not me.
"I really don't like the system because you can't substitute as many times as you want. So when you select your team, the final 12, you have to make sure that if people get in foul trouble early, you have someone in that classification or lower that can immediately go in, or what you have to do is make two substitutions."
After camp, Shaver and his staff had compiled what they felt was the top 18 players available. These players come from all walks of life. Some are still in high school, while others play at colleges or community-based teams.
"It is a variety of young people at various stages of their lives," Shaver said. "I think our youngest is going to be about 17."
With the squad selected and everyone eyeing their first true training camp in June, Shaver is looking to his experience at all levels of the game and his coaching experience in other sports to help him guide his young team.
"I took the very, very, very first young team that the United States ever sent into international competition. I won't even tell you what year," he joked. "I've been at this level two or three times. I've also been with what we label as our senior women. I've also been with the senior men, all the way up through the Paralympics.
"I coached football for 20-some years and most of that was as an assistant. But I also had a couple years as the head coach. I do bring that experience and I understand being an assistant. Number one, as an assistant, I had all the answers. As a head coach you have none, so you need to surround yourself with good people."