Men’s wheelchair basketball team hires a familiar face


New men’s wheelchair basketball head coach Jake Williams looks to the crowd as he participates as a player on the Team USA men’s wheelchair basketball team. Photo from Jake Williams’ Instagram account.

Nick Walczak, Mens Sports Journalist

The UW-Whitewater men’s wheelchair basketball team is welcoming former Whitewater wheelchair basketball star Jake Williams as the program’s new head coach. Williams was born in Milwaukee and attended Greenfield High School before joining the Warhawks in 2010. The Warhawks men’s program won the national championship in 2011, 2012, and in 2014. After graduating, Williams won a gold medal at the Rio Paralympic games in 2016 and helped lead Team USA to another gold in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. 

Q: What does it mean for you to be back at UWW, coaching for your alma mater?

A: Whitewater has a terrific history and it’s a great program. A lot of Paralympians have come through here and have had a lot of success in the past, so being the one trusted with keeping that tradition going, is amazing. When opportunities like this come up, you can’t really pass it up.  

Q: Wheelchair basketball has become something of a dynasty at Whitewater. How do you plan to keep that going?

A: Number one thing, we have to get good people in here. We have a smaller team this year, so we had to hit recruiting hard. We have to get the best kids from the Midwest and get them back up here. There was a time where every kid in the Midwest wanted to come here, and we really have to make sure we get back to that, creating that wall from Minnesota to Cincinnati and making sure we keep as many kids as possible and get them to come north, up here. Also, having a good staff, we are in the process of putting together a terrific staff, a staff that knows basketball and is on top of things, but that is also fun to be around. That really makes playing basketball, hanging out, and working out fun. People always work harder when they are having fun. Also, recruiting good student athletes, ones that you really don’t have to worry about getting to the classroom and ones that want to be great and athletes that want a future with USA basketball and beyond. We want to recruit those athletes because we can give them a road map to that and put them in the best chance to be successful. 

Q: Looking back, not so far, at your playing days as a Warhawk, what were your favorite memories?

A: Obviously, we won the national championship in Texas against another homecourt on a last second shot. So that is a very good memory. I played in two Paralympics and won two gold medals and played a bunch of games in Europe, but that win [in Texas] is still like the number one on the list because the euphoria afterwards, with it being such an intense game, that comes to mind. But, more than that, just hanging out with the guys and the coaches, everything like that. We were working really hard to get great, but we were doing that because we were having fun too and we were all close. 

Q: What are your coaching goals and team goals? Are you interested in coaching the national team eventually? How long do you plan on staying to coach at UW-Whitewater?

A: I don’t really have any ambition to coach the national team, I was just on the national team in Tokyo. So I don’t really have ambition of going there. My goal is to recapture the magic here at Whitewater and make this the number one destination spot again. We are competing with a lot of schools in the south with warm weather, more money, stuff like that, so it’s really about making this school more of a destination than before. My goals for this year, and every year, being here at Whitewater is to win the national championship. It’s not really a rebuilding year, we just have to reload and keep going. We have a lot of talent on this team, so they’re going to have to come together and push each other to be as successful as possible, but obviously with hosting the national championship, we definitely want to win it, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work, and with having a small team, there is nowhere to hide, everyone is going to have to play. I am from Wisconsin, so this is where I want to be… We got in the past, great support from the university, and we are still getting great support from the university, but as long as the university wants to have a tier one program, then this is definitely where I want to be. 

It’s obvious that Williams is bringing immense passion and determination with him as he takes over at the helm of the team. Warhawks men’s wheelchair basketball has won 13 national championships in the program’s history, 10 of them after 2003. There is no question that Williams intends to get the Warhawks back where they have been so many times, at the top.