Already qualified for the Paralympics in London later this year Team SASOL South Africa will face some tough opposition as they take on four of the world’s best wheelchair basketball teams in an Easter tournament in Blankenberge, Belgium this weekend.
With the world’s best two teams in Netherlands and World Champions Australia taking part alongside strong challengers Italy and Canada, the South Africans will have their work cut out for them on the court as they continue their build-up to the Paralympics in London later this year.
But the team has been hampered by some logistical issues after one of their star performers Luvuyo Mbanda’s wheelchair was badly damaged in transit across to Belgium, prompting a desperate search to get him a replacement.
Unfortunately the replacement chair will only arrive shortly before Friday’s opening match against Canada, meaning that Mbanda has been unable to train for the entire week in the lead-up to the tournament.
Still, despite the setbacks, coach Patrick Fick is confident of a good showing, but admits it may be a slow start as the team have not played together since winning the Africa qualifying tournament in Morocco five months ago.
ÔÇ£We haven’t been together for five months now, so this is a critical competition phase for us in our preparations. We are also without one of our regulars in Marius Papenfus, who couldn’t make the trip for business reasons,ÔÇØ said Fick.
ÔÇ£The hassles we had with Luvuyo’s chair have been difficult for us, as we have lent him a chair for practice by alternating him between chairs from Stuart Jellows and Jaco Veljoen but it has been difficult. In this sport the wheelchair is almost an extension of the player and designed exactly for them so to use someone else’s chair is difficult.ÔÇØ
Fick believes that his mantra of playing the best in the world will pay off come London, but for now he wants a good showing against the Canadians. In a warm-up match on Wednesday night Fick’s men went down 67-41 but had an encouraging second half when the employed a man-on-man defence.
ÔÇ£The Canadians have gone back to experience in bringing back Patrick Anderson, one of the top players of all time.
They will give us a very tough game, but we need to keep competing on that level to build our game.ÔÇØ