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Miles to go for Great Britain - Thompson named to coach GB women

CHARLOTTE (Steve Goldberg's Wheel World) - There will be two new players from Great Britain on the University of Alabama women's wheelchair basketball team this season. One of the top programs in the country, they are a three-time national champion, finishing second the last two years.

Though he is the head coach of the Alabama men's wheelchair team - which won its first national title last season - Miles Thompson will pay particular attention to the play of Laurie Williams and Jude Hamer this season, as he was just named by the re-branded British Wheelchair Basketball (BWB) - formerly the Great Britain Wheelchair Basketball Association - to lead their women's national team through next year's world championships in Canada, the European Championships in England, and the 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil.

It's a position he will start now but will only move to full time at the conclusion of the Alabama basketball season.

When I spoke with him this week, Thompson was both excited about the opportunity ahead and somber at the inevitability of departing the university and a team he cares deeply about.

The decision to leave Alabama was a tough one for Thompson and the school. After coaching the Birmingham, Alabama-based Lakeshore Foundation Lakers team for a decade, in 2006 he moved 60 miles southwest to Tuscaloosa where he built the Alabama men's team from scratch, reaching the pinnacle with their first national championship title this year.

In a release, Alabama Adapted Athletics Director Brent Hardin said: "This is a surely bittersweet day for all of the Alabama Family. It is hard to put into words how much Miles means to all of us personally and how huge his impact has been on the Alabama Adapted Athletics program. So we are all sad to know that Miles will be leaving us after this season."

In announcing Thompson's hire, British Wheelchair Basketball Performance Director Paul Davies claimed: "The recruitment of Miles to lead the Women's programme represents another significant step towards achieving our ambition of winning a Paralympic medal in Rio.

"Miles comes to us with an extensive background in the game, a track record of success and a strong and visible desire to achieve high levels of performance. He is exactly the right man to lead our women's programme to the success that they are capable of."

BWB Chairman Malcolm Tarkenter added: "We know that the future of our Women's Programme is extremely bright. We have a fantastic combination of young up-and-coming players with those who have been playing the sport internationally for many years now, and Miles brings with him the knowledge and experience to continue to move us forwards."

Back in April, I wrote about the BWB talking with the former USA Women’s coach David Kiley about taking the UK ladies up to the podium level that their men have demonstrated for a long time. It didn't work out for Kiley who chose to bow out of contention because of what the commitment would mean on the family level.

Thompson was Kiley's top assistant and defensive coordinator for the USA at the London Paralympics last year as well as the World Championship winning 2010 team. He also played that role for the gold medal winning U23 USA men in 2009 and was head coach for the American U19 boys winning the 2003 Australia Games.

He says it all came together rather quickly as he was preparing his Alabama team for another run at the title. A man of principle who built the Alabama men's program from scratch, he will see this season through to the finish before packing his bags.

Thompson's role will extend beyond leading both the women's national and U25 teams for international competitions to contributing to the development of elite players across the whole of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. While there will be a probationary period through the World Championships and the agreement goes through Rio, Thompson is taking a long term view which includes the 2020 Paralympics as well.

Currently there are at least three GB women playing collegiately in America. Along with Williams and Hamer, Helen Freeman is at the University of Illinois. All three were on the Paralympic team in London and should factor into next year's world championships and Rio as well.

When he first saw the GB women in 2009, Thompson was impressed with a squad that was young and fast but lacking in the fundamentals that can make a good team great. Priding himself on being a teacher of those fundamentals, he also says this is a team that will benefit from time together and lots of it.

Along with this assessment, he went to his interview with a presentation that included a schedule, a practice plan, and John Wooden's Pyramid of Success. It impressed the BWB selectors.

Thompson was also impressed, telling me that an enticement to the job was that BWB has three very important things going for them: talent, facilities and resources.

Carrying the momentum from the build-up to the home games in London, Thompson says: "This is one of the best jobs in the world."

And that's saying a lot from a man who already thinks he's had the best job in the world.

Steve Goldberg


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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.