Wheelchair BasketballNewsBailey MoodyIxhelt Gonzalez

From Preps To Bama To Team USA: Rivals-Turned-Teammates Bailey Moody and Ixhelt Gonzalez Are Making Waves In Wheelchair Hoops

by Alex Abrams

Bailey Moody poses with her ticket for the Paralympic Games Paris 2024 at the women's finals at the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 24, 2024 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Mark Reis)

Bailey Moody has photographs of herself playing against Ixhelt Gonzalez on the basketball court before they were even in high school.

The two friends started off as rivals. As teenagers, they were star players for two of the nation’s top prep wheelchair basketball teams — Moody with the Atlanta Junior Hawks and Gonzalez as a member of the Chicago Skyhawks.

They had tendency to face each other every year at the prep national tournament in Kentucky.

“Our goal was just to get to nationals, get to meet Atlanta in the championship game and hopefully win that championship game,” Gonzalez said. “But unfortunately, we lost two in a row to them. But in 2016, we finally beat them for the championship, so it was pretty nice.”

Their paths have crossed again and again over the past decade as they’ve moved up the ranks of wheelchair basketball. They saw each other at Team USA camps, and they were teammates when the Americans earned the bronze medal at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.

Moody, 22, and Gonzalez, 19, now play for the University of Alabama women’s wheelchair team, which has become as dominant of a program as Alabama’s football team.

“We have basically grown up together,” Moody said.

And this summer, they’ll be together again as teammates at the Paralympic Games Paris 2024, where Team USA will look to return to the top of the podium for the first time since 2016.

On March 9, the two friends helped the Crimson Tide cruise to a 75-57 win over the UT Arlington in the NWBA college national title game in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Moody scored 18 points, and Gonzalez — this year’s National Player of the Year — added 16 points as Alabama earned its fifth consecutive national championship and 10th overall. It was the second national title that they’ve won together in college.

Only a few weeks later, Moody and Gonzalez learned that both had been named to the U.S. roster for the Paris Games.

“We played against each other all the way through high school on different teams, and we started playing Team USA together in high school,” Moody said of Gonzalez. “… And then she came to the same school as me, so now we’re playing on the same team everywhere we go. That’s incredible.

“I’ve watched her develop immensely as an athlete, and she’s pushed me to be better as well. We’ve kind of been the two youngins through this whole USA process.”

Moody, who grew up in Johns Creek, Georgia, was the first of the pair to decide to play for the Crimson Tide. Then, when Gonzalez was a high school junior in Chicago, Moody sent an email introducing Alabama coach Ryan Hynes to Gonzalez.

“I (told him I) just wanted to know why, all of a sudden, you’re reaching out to me,” Gonzalez said. “And he basically said that we see potential in you and the University of Alabama creates opportunities for people who love the sport.”

Ixhelt Gonzalez competes during the women's semifinals against Team Brazil at the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 23, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)

Moody and Gonzalez were each introduced to wheelchair basketball at a young age.

Moody’s father, Patrick, played baseball at the Citadel, and her mother, Tiffany, was a member of the first women’s soccer team at Auburn in the early 1990s.

Moody said her mother hoped that one of her children would follow in her footsteps and play soccer, but Moody instead developed a love for basketball. She was an active kid, but she started to feel pain in her right knee when she was in the fourth grade.

At first, everyone thought she had either suffered an injury or was going through growing pains. The pain, however, quickly became so intense it started to wake her up in the middle of the night.

After undergoing a series of X-rays and MRIs, Moody learned that she had osteosarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer that tends to affect kids, teenagers and young adults. It’s often found in the long bones of the legs.

“From there, as a 10-year-old in the fourth grade, I was thrust into this world of chemo treatments and doctors and medications and something that is not normal to a kid,” Moody said.

Moody said she was forced to make a decision on how the tumor would be removed from her right leg. She opted to have her leg amputated so she could get back to playing sports and having an active lifestyle.

Moody started playing basketball again after her surgery, but she said she was losing her love for the game because it was becoming a struggle for her to run up and down the court. Her parents introduced her to wheelchair basketball in the seventh grade.

“As soon as I jumped in the chair, I loved it,” Moody said. “The joy was back, and I was able to play the game again on an even playing field. And then from there, opportunities just began to arise.”

Gonzalez, meanwhile, was born with a disability known as femoral anteversion, in which the femur bones in her legs are twisted inward. She said it causes her to walk pigeon-toed like a penguin.

When Gonzalez was 6 or 7 years old, her older brother, Guillermo, who was born with cerebral palsy, was going through rehab. A wheelchair basketball coach approached Gonzalez and her mother and asked if she would be interested in playing.

“I fell in love with wheelchair basketball right away. I don’t know what it was,” Gonzalez said. “The only reason why I said yes to wheelchair sports in the first place was I got to play with my brother because he has cerebral palsy, so he was able to play wheelchair basketball and wheelchair softball with me.”

Gonzalez doesn’t use a wheelchair to get around on a daily basis. She’s able to walk, but she admitted it felt “normal” and “like second nature” when she started shooting and warming up with her wheelchair basketball teammates.

Gonzalez is now a sophomore at Alabama. Bailey, meanwhile, is a senior who’ll graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. But that doesn’t mean she’ll soon stop playing alongside Gonzalez.

Moody is starting a graduate program in clinical mental health counseling at Alabama this fall and still has two more years of college eligibility. She said she intends to play two more seasons with the Crimson Tide, but first she’ll head to Paris with Gonzalez to try to win a gold medal together.

“Bailey and I have known each other for a long time and have been competitive against each other for a very long time,” Gonzalez said. “It’s nice to see her every day and compete against her every day here with Alabama, but we also started our Team USA journey together at the start as well. So we’ve had a lot of firsts together.”