Actually, we suppose the headline should read “MAY Madness,” because May is when amputee ballers will be returning to the hardwood for the 6th Cactus Classic. Hosted by AMP1, the nation’s #1 standup amputee basketball team, this one-of-a-kind tournament draws limb-different hoop dreamers from all over the country for two days of fast breaks, no-look passes, screens, steals, swishes, floor burns, half-court heaves, and the occasional rim-rattling dunk. The dates are May 13-14 in Phoenix AZ, and there’s still plenty of time to register; here’s all the information you need.
Initially staged in 2015, the Cactus Classic gained crazy momentum in its first five years while generating loads of enthusiasm for the sport of standup amputee basketball. NBA teams got involved, and major adaptive sports figures took notice. There were conversations about establishing an international governing body and qualifying standup hoops for the Paralympics in time for it to debut at the 2028 Los Angeles games. Then COVID hit, the 2020 Cactus Classic was shelved, and the tournament—and the sport as a whole—fell into a holding pattern.
“We had so much stuff lined up that year when COVID hit,” says AMP1 co-founder Nick Pryor, a sports and fitness specialist at Ability 360 in Phoenix. “We had a big clinic in New York lined up, we were gonna do some demos with the Atlanta Hawks, and we had plans with some teams in the G League [the NBA’s developmental league].”
Those events haven’t been rescheduled yet, but AMP1’s 2023 calendar is filling up with new opportunities to rebuild the momentum behind standup basketball. The first of those comes on April 16, when the team will partner up with the Challenged Athletes Foundation and the NBA champ Golden State Warriors’ Basketball Academy for a one-day adaptive hoops clinic in Oakland, CA. AMP1 has a longstanding connection to the Warriors because of Troy Druppal, a team veteran who has coached for the Warriors’ youth academy for many years (and can flash a championship ring to commemorate the organization’s 2022 NBA title).
“We do a Warriors clinic every year,” says Druppal, who was named the NBA’s Local Coach of the Year not long ago. “We work with patients from the Children’s Hospital at UCSF, and they go through a regular camp with the coaches from the Warriors’ regular basketball academy. We’re there to serve as ambassadors of standup basketball and help mentor the younger generation of players.”
The Cactus Classic takes place the following month, and then AMP1 will be heading to Nubability’s All-Sports camp near Chicago in mid-July. The team also has a November commitment—the Duel in the Desert, an adaptive-sports festival in Phoenix that features both standup and wheelchair hoops, amputee soccer, sled hockey, wheelchair rugby, and various other events.
“We’d also like to enter the Nike Three-on-Three tournament in August,” Druppal adds. “I don’t know how many of us can make it, though, so that’s kind of tentative right now, depending on everybody’s schedule.” The last time AMP1 entered the Nike tournament, back in 2019, they won three of their six games against non-disabled competition. “We got our butts kicked one game, but then we kicked butt the next game,” Druppal laughs. “So it was kind of hit or miss. But we had a lot of fun, so I hope we can get back there.”
Likewise, Pryor’s hoping that standup basketball can get back to the level of enthusiasm and growth it had achieved before the pandemic set in. This year’s Cactus Classic promises to be the most competitive ever. In addition to a strong field that may include two former NCAA Division 1 players (Kevin Atlas and Zach Hodskins), the 2023 tournament will be the first in which AMP1’s roster gets spread among multiple teams in the bracket. “It allows us to play with some other people,” says Pryor. “And, you know, we’ve won the tournament every year, so this should give some opportunities for other people to finish on top.”
There will also be a kids’ bracket this year, which is another Cactus Classic first. “We need to start bringing along the next generation of players,” Pryor says. “As much as we hate it, we [on AMP1] are all getting a little older. So we’ve got to start thinking about the transition to the players who can keep things moving. We may never get to play in the Paralympics, but if not then we hope we can help that next generation get their chance.”
Pryor hasn’t given up on the idea of getting a three-on-three version of standup basketball included in the 2028 Games. “We already have the paperwork ready to go,” he says. “And it would make sense now that [non-disabled] three-on-three basketball is part of the Olympics. There’s no reason not to do the same thing in the Paralympics, as long as enough countries are involved.”
“I think getting the classification is the biggest issue,” says Druppal. “For the Paralympics, by rule, I wouldn’t be able to play in the same classification as Nick, because he’s a leg amputee and I’m an arm amputee. So getting enough participants who want to compete in standup might be difficult if we have to stay within those classification rules. Maybe they can bend the rules a little bit. I do know there’s a discussion about it, to see if we can figure out how to make it possible.”
As for March Madness, which tips off tomorrow, Pryor will be pulling for his alma mater, the Indiana Hoosiers, while Druppal is backing the St. Mary’s Gaels (who very quietly rank as the 11th-best team in the country per Ken Pomeroy’s computer). Our own hearts are with the Missouri Tigers, although we do not have great expectations. In the women’s bracket, we’re rooting for Colorado (6th seed in Seattle Region 4).
Best of luck to your team(s), whoever they are. And best of luck to everyone who signs up for the Cactus Classic.