Hamburg 2018 - Defending champs Australia men and Canada women still in the hunt
Steve Goldberg's Wheel World
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Hamburg 2018 - Defending champs Australia men and Canada women still in the hunt

HAMBURG (Steve Goldberg's Wheel World) - And then there were four. After seven days of competition, the medal contenders for the IWBF men's world championship are down to four. Defending world champions Australia, Great Britain, Iran, and the United States.

The semifinals on Friday will pit AUS v USA in a battle for dominance of those three letters while Iran will try to guarantee its first-ever world championship medal against the Brits.

How great can Britain be?

Great Britain was the first to claim a semifinal spot with a 67-62 win over a Spanish side that came late to the party, losing all three pool play games before showing their mettle in a Round of 16 win over Japan.

Down by 6 with ten minutes to play, Spain fought back to go ahead 60-58 with 3:03 to play.

Terry Bywater, who had been Britain's go-to guy until taking the role of mentor, kind of like Vince Carter in the NBA, for this new generation of young players. showed that he can still be the designated hitter, mailing a 3 to put his team back in front.

Gregg Warburton then hit Harry Brown on a beautiful backdoor cut to go 63-60, Two free throws by Brown put them up by 5 with 43 seconds to play and two more from Bywater sealed the deal.

 George Bates led GB with 18 points with Philip Pratt posting an impressive triple double (17p, 10r, 10a). Jordi Ruis led Spain with 18.

This is a team with high aspirations which would like another shot at the USA after losing their only match of the tournament to the former colony by 7 last Friday.

US brings the A game… again

All for one; one for all. The USA are truly the twelve musketeers of wheelchair basketball. The one stat that stands out for me in an overwhelming 72-31 win was that the USA recorded an astounding 27 assists on 29 field goals made. The Americans rotate the ball so much and so quickly, it has its own field of gravity.

A soul-crushing 21-0 run by the USA to start the second half stamped out any signs of life from an Argentina side that played the defending Paralympic champions tough for the first quarter, 13-16. The Americans doubled up on the South Americans with an 18-3 second quarter before going nuclear in the third.

"We know that it’s one and done now," understated captain Steve Serio who is still popular with local fans after playing several successful years with German club RSV Lahn-Dill. "Pool play is over, and we know how important these games are. We didn’t take this game lightly."

Steve Serio (Photo by Steve Goldberg/SCS Media)

Ten of 12 players scored for the USA with only three in double figures, led by Brian Bell's 12 points. In spite of this, the Americans have presented the highest scoring offense and the stingiest defense in the competition.

"We pride ourselves on our defense," said USA coach Ron Lykins. "It’s an attitude, and that’s what we want to have. We want to make teams to play and do what we want."

Lykins is undeniably one of the most accomplished coaches in the game, having led the American women to two Paralympic gold medals (Athens, Beijing) and the men to their first in 28 years last time out in Rio.

His players buy in to the philosophy of selflessness, hard work and responsibility and they've been rewarded for it. That doesn't mean they can't be beat. It does make clear that to do so will take an epic effort.

Morteza Ebrahimi celebrates another Iranian basket against Turkey. (Photo by Steve Goldberg/SCS Media)

Iran runs away at the end

In far and away the most emotionally intense and passionate game of the tournament, Iran went the distance with Turkey, trailing for three quarters before seeing it through at the end, 76-69.

The triple-edged sword that is Morteza  Ebrahimi (23 points), Omid Hadiazhar (22) and Morteza Abedi (21) combined for all but 10 of Iran's points. The fourth element, Mohammadhassan Sayari was quiet in this game with only 2 points but could easily be a factor in the semi with his size and length.

Turkey, fourth place finishers in Rio , were another team with a rough start to the tournament yet still made it to the quarterfinals. Captain Ozgur Gurbulak, led his team with 21 points, 12 assists and 8 rebounds. One of his 3-pointers was closer to halfcourt than it was to the line. Cem Gezinci added 14.

It was a frantic finish with Iran showing remarkable poise in between explosive reactions of joy as they kept finding paths to the rim to defend the lead once they gained it.

 Turkey had fantastic support from the Ottoman Empire in the stands but it wasn't enough to get past an Iran playing solid on both ends of the court. (Photo by Steve Goldberg/SCS Media)

Australia pops Polish balloon

Full of confidence after toppling Canada, Poland were seeking another Commonwealth scalp and led the defending champs by 1 after ten minutes and pushed the margin to 7 before the Rollers shot their way back into the lead with 3:03 to play. They went into the halftime with that advantage.

It grew by a dozen after three quarters and stayed in double figures for most of the way home.

Five Aussies scored at least ten, including Tom O'Neill-Thorne (22), Bill Latham (18) and Shawn Norris (15).

Player/coach Piotr Lushynski, a top offensive threat only played 11 minutes for Poland, scoring but 2 points. Poland's other shooter, Mateuz Filipski scored 16 with 11 assists. Dominik Mosler led the team with 18 points.

 Women's quarterfinals

Thursday will feature the women's quarterfinals and men's placement games. The Netherlands and Germany dominated their respective pools

China v Canada – The strength of China comes in their collective effort and Canada will need to match that cohesion for any chance of success. It will take focus on both ends for either team to advance.

Great Britain v USA – Miles Thompson has guided the Brits to the brink of medaling and they are entirely capable of handling this young and inexperienced team that is much like the GB side he took to Rio. That said, the Americans keep improving and have enough shooters to do the job. But will they?

Netherlands v France – I might as well say the same thing for both of these games. The Dutch and Germans should move on with little drama.

Germany v Spain - That said, Spain did upset Australia, but it should be noted that the Gliders were missing a key player due to a family situation back home. Our sincerest condolences go out to the entire Aussie basketball family.

Here are the key links to follow the games:

Tournament website 

IWBF website

Live streaming 

Game reports in German

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.