The Sasol South African wheelchair basketball team finished their Four Nations Tournament in France buoyed by the experience of going up against three of the top ranked teams in the world.
Tasked with taking the local side to the Africa Qualifier in Morocco this October, national coach Patrick Fick said the trip was worth its weight in gold in terms of their preparation.
ÔÇ£We may have ended on the losing side, but this tournament has proven that we are very far down the track and the team well outperformed my expectations,ÔÇØ Fick explained.
ÔÇ£France are the current European champions, Israel ranks in the top five in Europe and Canada are in the top five teams in the world. Not one of our matches in this tournament was a whitewash and that is a positive sign of where we are at.ÔÇØ
Skipper Marcus Retief agreed. ÔÇ£A lot has changed since the last Paralympics,ÔÇØ he said. ÔÇ£There are new players, new plays and new tactics and the new team is shaping up very well.
ÔÇ£Pat took us in a different direction. It was great to see at what level we are competing and what still needs work. We may have come away on the losing side, but we are delighted with the experience. The team views it as a win-win situation, because we got the opportunity to play the best, gain experience and increase our skills.ÔÇØ
The Sasol SA squad lost their opening match against Israel 89-53, were beaten by France 69-46 and went down 84-41 to Canada. In the bronze match, the local side lost to France 84-56. Although the local side failed to bank a win against the French, Israel or Canada, Fick was impressed with how the side performed against such tough opponents.
ÔÇ£These teams play at the kind of level where, 12 months ago, we would have struggled to score,ÔÇØ he explained. ÔÇ£Overall, our defence held up incredibly well. We managed to restrict them to double digits and in our games against France and Israel we did really well over the first three quarters.ÔÇØ
Retief added that the trip also showed the team’s strengths. ÔÇ£We are definitely a unit and we have a strong fighting spirit,ÔÇØ he said. ÔÇ£We will have to work at our fitness levels because we did get a little tired towards the end. But that can certainly be done.ÔÇØ
Another worry for Fick is whittling down the 20-man squad to 12 for the African qualifier, but Fick said the tournament has left him with a clear picture of what still needs to be done
ÔÇ£We are coming down the stretch now,ÔÇØ he said. ÔÇ£The focus was to unite the team as a unit, to finalise our plays and to put that into practice. We will have to finalise our squad for the upcoming trip to Australia in June, because that will be the team we take to the qualifier. We have a few points to iron out, but we have laid a very solid foundation.ÔÇØ