Canada’s wheelchair basketball teams have...
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Aug 14, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Canada’s wheelchair basketball teams have something to prove at Parapan Am Games

In the past six Paralympics, Canada’s men and women have won gold in wheelchair basketball six time and picked up a silver and a bronze. No other country has had such dominance in the sport but, lately, neither has Canada

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A few minutes into a blowout semifinal against Argentina, the Canadians were up by more than a dozen points.

But the shouts of “defence, defence” from their bench never let up and neither did the Parapan Am Games wheelchair basketball players.

They held the Argentines at bay to such a degree they were routinely called for shot clock violations. The Canadians made them work just to get the ball, slowed them down from doing anything useful with it and then, when they were on offence, the women hustled from the whistle to make the most of their time at the net.

They took the game, 84-28.

This give-no-ground, give-no-time game is part of Canada’s new style of play, and it’s the way they hope to re-establish themselves as the internationally dominant team they used to be.

In the past six Paralympics, Canada’s men and women have won gold in wheelchair basketball six time and picked up a silver and a bronze. No other country has had such dominance in the sport but, lately, neither has Canada.

The men won at the 2012 London Games but the next year failed to even qualify for the 2014 world championships. The women, undefeated internationally for 15 years starting in the 1990s, missed the podium entirely at the last two Paralympics but won last year’s world championships.

Proving that both teams are back to their winning ways was one of their three goals coming into these Parapan Am Games. The other two are, perhaps, simpler: Win gold on home soil and qualify for next summer’s Rio Paralympics.

The women who play for the gold medal on Friday have already secured their Rio berth. For the men, Friday’s semis will determine what colour medal they play for Saturday. They want gold, naturally, but so long as they win at least a bronze medal they’ll also punch their ticket to Rio.

“We want to continue to grow and start that new dynasty,” women’s team veteran Tracey Ferguson said.

And playing the new style of Canadian basketball is key to that.

“When we do it well, it’s incredible powerful,” she said.

Toronto’s Ferguson is the only player left on the women’s team from Canada’s Paralympic winning years, and included in her multitude of medals are three Paralympic golds and five world championship titles.

She’s looking to add another one to her collection in Rio.

“We’ve build back up where we can compete with anybody on any day and that’s what you want.”

The national men’s team, even more so, feel they have a lot to prove by winning against top teams, like the Americans, at these Games.

That’s because the team is without its core stars, who all retired after the London Games and missed out on the last world championships.

“There’s lots of teams looking at us saying they don’t have Pat (Anderson), they don’t have Joey (Johnson), they don’t have Richard (Peter) . . . we’ve beaten them before,” said Adam Lancia, one of the few veterans left.

“We’ll definitely feel vindicated when we go out and play the way we know we can and do well against these teams that are looking at us as injured baitfish,” he said.

While they want the old success, they know they have to create it differently.

A good chunk of Canada’s years of dominance had to do with being ahead of the international curve in supporting Paralympians and a fortuitous crop of exceptional players. Those aren’t factors that can be relied on again.

That’s why Mike Frogley, the director of the national wheelchair basketball academy in Toronto, is working to change the way the Canadian players train and play the game.

Instead of sticking with the common half-court game, the Canadians are pioneering an offensive style that seeks to get position early, slowing down their opponents and taking up valuable time on their shot clock.

It’s physically hard and requires a lot of team communication to be successful but the players have all bought in.

“There’s always that extra pressure of being a great team and something happening and not having that same level of excellence in your back pocket,” Lancia said. “We’ve been working our tails off to get back to that point. That’s what we’re here to prove this week.”

Toronto Star

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