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A tale of two cities – hoop dreams version
05/02/2018
Steve Goldberg's Wheel World

A tale of two cities – hoop dreams version

CHARLOTTE (Steve Goldberg's Wheel World) - It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Perhaps... no, most definitely a bit of overstatement there but the words of Charles Dickens cannot be improved upon by me when it comes to this tale of two cities.

Last Monday saw both good and bad news for wheelchair basketball in regard to upcoming major competitions in the cities of Hamburg and Paris.

Hamburg provided the good news with the draw for the upcoming IWBF World Championships, giving specificity to the mission of the 192 men and 120 women who will vie for total global domination of the wheel world. 

Paris, on the other hand, will not see the game grow by the addition of 3X3 wheelchair basketball competition to the schedule of the 2024 Paralympic Games.

Let's run with the bad news first as I prefer to close on a high note.

On the Saturday before the draw in Hamburg, the International Paralympic Committee's Governing Board announced that 3X3 wheelchair basketball would not move on to the next phase of application for the program in Paris.

The board decided that the 3x3 discipline of wheelchair basketball will not proceed to Phase 2 as it currently has no quadrennial competition programs and therefore will not be considered for the next phase.IPC Governing BoardIPC Governing Board

In a statement from the IWBF, President Ulf Mehrens congratulated the sports moving on and said, "While we are naturally disappointed not to have 3x3 discipline included on this list, we recognize and understand the serious consideration the IPC has given it."

"We look at this as a further opportunity and motivation to establish a fundamental and formalized competition structure for the 3x3 discipline of wheelchair basketball across the world, ready to be able to put in a new application for the Paralympic Games in 2028."

"We really believe the introduction of a new format will increase the ability of more countries to be competitive and become successful in wheelchair basketball and add to the Paralympic Games movement and have strong hopes for the future."

That echoes the thoughts of Maureen Orchard, the IWBF Secretary who explained that emerging and developing wheelchair basketball programs in countries that might not be able to field the 12 athletes necessary for the 5v5 game, might have the four to five who could be competitive more quickly in the small-sided games.

3X3 is already on the docket for the Tokyo Olympic Games but that's because FIBA has organized a world championship tournament, the FIBA 3X3 World Cup, since 2012 as well as a world tour for city-identified teams. As proof of concept that 3X3 can allow more nations to compete, the 2014 men's tournament was won by Qatar. 

The IWBF has, however contested an official world championship of the 5v5 ilk for men since 1975 (after conducting an unofficial tournament in 1973). The first women's world championship was contested in 1990.

The defending medalists from 2014 are: (men) Australia, USA, Turkey; and (women) Canada, Germany Netherlands.

Here's the first round battle lines for Hamburg.

Men

Pool A Pool B Pool C Pool D
Canada Great Britain Brazil Argentina
Germany Poland Italy Australia
Iran South Korea Japan Netherlands
Morocco USA Turkey Spain

 Women

Pool A Pool B
Australia Algeria
Brazil Argentina
Canada China
Great Britain France
Netherlands Germany
Spain USA

That view wasn't rocked by Great Britain women's coach, Miles Thompson, who told me as much but with a caveat.With only two sides, the top women's teams will jump into the deep end of the pools right off the tip. Pool A features four medal contenders (Australia, Canada, Netherlands, USA) while Pool B has three (China, Germany, USA) in my estimation.

      An assistant with the USA in London, Miles Thompson guided the Great Britain women to a semifinal in Rio. Photo by Steve Goldberg/SCS Media

"The strongest teams are the ones with the greatest traditions.  Expect the usual suspects, but also World Championships allow the upstarts a platform to create their own traditions."

"I think it’s interesting that this is a carbon copy of the London 2012 pools with a couple extra teams," he noted, adding that it will be a "great opportunity to sense check programs and monitor the advancement, or development of certain countries."

    Ron Lykins has led the USA men and women to Paralympic gold medals. Photo by Steve Goldberg/SCS Media

I asked Ron Lykins, who guided the USA men to their first Paralympic gold medal since 1988 in Rio two summers ago, if his team should be considered the favorites. His reply was no surprise.

"I don’t think we are the favorite; there are many teams that could win.  We are one of them."

"Our pool will be challenging.  Great Britain is one of the best teams in the world.  Poland and South Korea have very good players.  We will need to play our best in order to be successful."

What did surprise me is when he said the USA's next competitive game will be their first game in Hamburg. 

Canada, on the other hand, will have a well-tested run to Hamburg, traveling to Tokyo in June to play Australia, Germany and Japan; and then hitting Poland where they'll see the home team, Turkey, Great Britain, and the Germans again before hopping to Hamburg.

Matteo Feriani, the former Brazil, Australia and Italy assistant now in charge of the Canadian men, doesn't agree with Lykins' self-deprecating view of the hierarchy.

 Before taking the top job with Canada, Matteo Feriani was an assistant on the Brazilian bench in Rio. Photo by Steve Goldberg/SCS Media

He says the "USA is the champ to beat", but that in Rio they were the chasers, which is a different kind of pressure than being the hunted.

Feriani also noted that while Canada (2004 and 2006) and Australia (2008 and 2010) have been able to win a Paralympic Games and the next World Championship, it is not easy to accomplish. (Technically, the USA men did it in 1992 and 1994 but officially, they were disqualified from the Paralympic gold in Barcelona.)

In how the world championships will differ from Rio, he says, "There are more teams and they are all good ones."

With the retirements of so many players after Rio, the usual suspects, as Miles Thompson put it, will look different as they integrate new and younger players with Tokyo 2020 on the horizon. Case in point: the USA women whose national team currently includes only two players from the gold medal team in Rio.

It was actually a tale of three cities last week as the basketball competition at the Para Central American Games Managua 2018, closed out with the Nicaraguan men winning before the home crowd 60-44 over El Salvador in the final. 

The women of Guatemala, featuring the inimitable Alva Puac, won the gold medal over El Salvador as well 13-3. 

Steve Goldberg

FIBA

FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.

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Steve Goldberg

Steve Goldberg

Eight years after first getting a glimpse of wheelchair basketball at the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul when covering the Olympics for UPI, Steve Goldberg got the chance to really understand the game as Chief Press Officer for the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta. He's been a follower of the sport ever since. Over the years, the North Carolina-born and bred Tar Heel fan - but University of Georgia grad - has written on business, the economy, sports, and people for media including Time, USA Today, New York magazine, Reuters, Universal Sports, TNT, ESPN, New York Daily News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and The Olympian. Steve Goldberg's Wheel World will look at the past, present and future of wheelchair basketball.