Generation Next - Who will move from Thailand to Tokyo
Steve Goldberg's Wheel World
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Generation Next - Who will move from Thailand to Tokyo

CHARLOTTE (Steve Goldberg's Wheel World) - The future of the game took court last week and I'm not just talking about those who will compete for medals in Paralympic Games and World Championships to come, even if that's what the headline infers.

Just as important was the presence of the first women's team from Thailand to compete in a world championship. Turkey were there for the first time and South Africa were back to represent the continent after competing in 2011. It's good to note that the tournament was back to eight teams after hosting six in 2015.

 After a disappointing, but probably appropriate 6th place finish at the IWBF World Championships last summer, the USA showed that their youth movement in Hamburg is paying dividends with a comprehensive domination of the Third IWBF U25 Women's World Championships just completed in Suphanburi, Thailand.

 The final was a dominant 62-25 USA win over Australia. Undefeated in six games, the Americans won by an average of just over 45 points per game. The closest was a 25-point margin over Australia in pool play.

Eight of the USA roster - Josie Aslakson, Abby Dunkin, Ixhelt Gonzalez, Rose Hollermann, Alejandra Ibanez, Riley Ljungdahl, Bailey Moody, Emily Oberst, Lindsey Zurbrugg - were in Hamburg. Two of them, Hollermann and Dunkin, had already earned gold medals at the Rio Paralympic Games. Hollermann was named the U25 tournament MVP with Dunkin named to the All Star Five.

Six of them -Hollermann, Dunkin, Josie Aslakson, Alejandra Ibanez, Bailey Moody, Lindsey Zurbrugg – have already been named to the USA roster for the 2019 ParaPan American Games in Lima, Peru.

The USA held both the U25 Training Camp and the Senior Selection camp at the same time and head coach Trooper Johnson said that allowed him and the staff to focus on getting the younger players experience competing against veteran talent before heading to Thailand.

"It was a pretty amazing camp," Johnson said before the tournament. "The younger athletes got to see some of the veterans coming back and see what they're going to be going up against the next couple of years as we prepare for Tokyo. Those last few scrimmages were impressive."

 By contrast, the other primary contenders, Great Britain brought five players – Kayla Bell, Siobhan Fitzpatrick, Joy Haizelden, Charlotte Moore, and Maddie Thompson from the team that won its first ever senior medal, a silver, in Hamburg. The Brits were defending champions, having won in Beijing in 2015. What they didn't have was the scoring or rebounding prowess of the players who had aged out like 2015 tournament MVP Amy Conroy and All-Star Laurie Williams.

Silver medal winners Australia had just Annabelle Lindsay from their Hamburg roster. She led all scorers at 18.33 points per game and rebounding at 16 per game.  Only Catharina Weiss, named to the All Star Five along with Lindsay, was on the court Germany from their bronze medal Hamburg roster.

 Even though the Americans will see Rio veterans back in the hunt for a chance at the Tokyo Paralympics, they will have to work harder to earn it as the potential player pool is getting wider and deeper… and younger.

Upping one's game is what it is all about.

The next generation of wheelchair basketball is not just about emerging players but about developing nations as well. Petr Tucek, Secretary General of IWBF Europe made sure to tell me about Bulgaria taking responsibility for organizing the ninth 2019 European Championships for Men Division C and I was glad to hear it. It will be the first ever participation by Bulgaria in European competition.

The tournament will take place in the capital Sofia, July 29 to the August 4. Competed every two years, it is a qualification tournament for the 2020 European Championship for Men Division B.

Petr Tucek at the draw for the 2019 European Championships for Men Division C to be held in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Along with the hosts, 13 countries, including Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovak Republic, and Slovenia, were invited to compete in the tournament.

Seven teams of those - Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland and Portugal – will be there.

 Several of these countries not there yet are very successful in FIBA competition and there's no reason why that passion for basketball cannot be broadened to the wheelchair game.

There is continuing growth for wheelchair basketball in Africa and India but there will always be room for more.

As with FIBA, this is fertile ground for the initiation of the IWBF 3x3 game that will provide countries with talent but a lack of depth a chance to compete on the continental and global stages.

Who's got next?

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.