TEL AVIV -- Good things happen when Emily Seelenfreund is on the court. While not a prolific scorer for Team USA’s wheelchair basketball team, she does all the things that don’t show up on the stat-sheet but are absolutely instrumental. She sets picks, positions herself perfectly on defense, puts up a hellacious full-court press and scores the occasional clutch bucket.
One sequence in the first half of Team USA’s overtime victory over Israel in the recent Maccabiah, sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel, illustrated her impact on the floor. Down by double digits midway through the second quarter, her teammate had the ball in the corner. Seelenfreund set a perfect screen on the Israeli defender allowing her teammate to wheel just far enough toward his left where he found some space and drained his shot. As she hustled back on defense, she shouted instructions to her teammates on where they should set up. The second-quarter basket, which Seelenfruend made possible, turned out to be the spark that ignited Team USA’s rally -- and it was her basket late in the fourth quarter that pulled Team USA to within a point.
Seelenfreund, who was raised in West Orange, New Jersey, played wheelchair basketball at the University of Alabama and now teaches elementary school in New Mexico. She was born with osteogenesis imperfecta. More commonly known as brittle bones disease, the condition prevents the body from producing sufficient collagen, and the result is that bones -- often in the leg -- can break more easily. But the disease hasn’t stopped Seelenfreund from playing basketball, which, in its wheelchair form, is noteworthy for its level of hard physical contact.
“I started track when I was five, but I always wanted to play basketball,” Seelenfreund said. “My parents were a little nervous that I would get hurt, but they relented when I got to junior high school.”
The 2013 Maccabiah markeed the debut of wheelchair sports in the games, which included tennis and table tennis as well.
“I feel really blessed to be here,” Seelenfreund said. “It’s groundbreaking to be part of the first wheelchair Maccabiah. And Israel holds a special place in my family. My grandfather was born in Israel and my aunt made Aliyah, and I feel the connection whenever I’m fortunate enough to come here.”
While the comeback against Israel on the court will be hard for Seelenfreund to forget, the opening ceremony was a highlight for her as well.
“The most meaningful experience I had was probably the opening ceremony,” Seelenfreund said. “The sheer impact of walking into the stadium with 1,000 other American athletes and 9,000 Jewish athletes was incredible. Hearing everyone screaming and the feeling of everybody being united in sport -- I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.”