By Mark Etheridge
They may have qualified for next year’s Paralympics in London but the best is still to come for our wheelchair basketballers.
That’s the word from a jubilant captain, Marcus Retief, after the “Amawheelaboyz” team returned this week from winning their African qualifying tournament in Morocco where the South Africans beat the home side 83-54 in a memorable final.
“In terms of this team’s potential, I think you still have to see the best we have, we still haven’t peaked and I know we will be a lot better by the London 2012 Paralympics, with a sponsor like Sasol on board it opens many doors for us to participate against the best countries in the world,” Retief told Road to London 2012.
“A 29-point win in any final is huge, never mind it being on your opposition’s home ground. I was surprised by the margin, because we only beat them by 14 two days before that. So we obviously knew they would come out fighting which they did, our first quarter score we were down by four points. But we just stuck to our game plan, took instructions from coach Pat Fick and that all just came together for us in an awesome victory.”
As far as the international scene is concerned the team will now take a bit of a well-earned breather after a hectic build-up to the qualifying tournament which saw them embarking on various tours to Australia and Europe. “We have no more tours scheduled for this year,”says Retief, “but the players will obviously still train, guys like Richard [Nortje] will be playing in the European league. As for our next tour WBSA will sit down and discuss the way forward from here.
While hesitant to point out individuals in the team Retief had the following to say: “It’s difficult to point out individuals, as in wheelchair basketball there are different classifications so a low pointer helps a high pointer get into the key to shoot, where a mid pointer does all the carrying etc… but if I must commend players for their performance it would be guys like Richard, Siphamandla Gumbi, Marius Papenfus… these guys are crucial to our team and it showed in Morocco. There are 22 of us in our squad system, all who can step in at anytime to play in this incredible team, but the door is always open for new potential to join the squad.”
Describing the Moroccan moment as one of the best he’s ever had in the sport, Retief says the celebrations were “hectic”.
“We were fortunate enough to have some Sasol representatives there with us, so they were kind enough to treat us to a good meal. And I must also mention that the Moroccans were extremely humble. I’m quite good friends with a few of the Moroccan players, in fact I made a deal with one of them that no matter what happened we would go to London and support each other, at the end of the day we are still all representing Africa.”
Retief ends off by thanking the team’s many supporters. “Especially a big thanks to Sasol as well as the Lotto, for the amount of work they put in during the year for us to be able to attend tournaments and training camps like the one we had in Canberra, Australia.”