Missing out on the 2012 London Paralympics bothered wheelchair basketball player Michael Paye.
The professional athlete, who has played in Germany's Bundesliga the past 10 seasons, wants to be back in a Team USA uniform when the 2016 Rio Paralympics begin Sept. 7. He is one of 25 competing in the three-day team trials, which conclude Wednesday, at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center.
The competition Tuesday was intense with wheelchairs clanging as players jockeyed for position. There was the smell of burnt rubber as tires screeched to a halt for pull-up shots.
Paye knows it will not be easy to make the squad and must make the most of this opportunity. Six play professionally in Europe while many compete at the national level with NBA wheelchair programs.
"The competition is extremely, extremely high," he said.
There are two more practices before cuts to 16 or 17 players are announced. The final 12 will be announced in July. Knowing that makes this camp a big one for Paye, who had to rededicate himself after falling short in 2012.
"Nothing quite compares to wearing USA on your chest at the Paralympics," said Paye, who competed in 2004 and 2008 as well as on three world championship teams.
"Being an alternate, you are at a crossroads where you have to decide whether you are going to continue or begin to step away.
"I knew I wanted to return to the Paralympics. You really miss the feeling you have when taking on the world's best with your 11 teammates."
Part of that effort is taking advantage of the opportunity to play professionally overseas, where the world's best make a living playing in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Turkey. The money is hardly NBA-caliber, but it enables players to compete at the highest level October through May and spend the rest of the year training with their national team programs.
"It is really about the experience and the chance to play at that level year-round," said Steve Serio, a teammate of Paye's with Lahn-Dill, which has won 11 of the past 12 Bundesliga titles.
Both credit the junior and college programs, overseen by the Colorado Springs-based National Wheelchair Basketball Association, which is running this week's trials, for improving the depth at the national and international level. Only one player at the trials has less than three years international experience while most have 10-plus years but are only in their late 20s or early 30s.
The U.S. team, in its fourth season under coach Ron Lykins, placed second to Australia in the last world championships. That makes them both likely gold contenders with the Americans relying on Lykins' style, which takes advantage of better speed to offset the Aussies' superior height.
"It will be the classic speed versus size matchup," said Serio, who is trying out for his third Paralympics.
"We have developed team chemistry with a strong understanding of our system so I am confident. We are all going in with high expectations."