This week’s article will be previewing the National Junior Championships 2017. The competition which is organised by British Wheelchair Basketball has been around for decades and has gained sponsorship from the Lords Taverners. There are two age groups, the U15s and U19s. The teams consist of nine English regions and three home countries. 10 athletes are selected per team as well as a head coach, assistant coach, and team manager. A total of 240+ people will attend the event being held at the University of Worcester Arena this weekend. I have gathered information from an U19 player who is representing each region or home country and I asked them how they feel about competing at the event and how they think their team will fair in the tournament.
Representing Scotland is Lothian Phoenix’s Adam Donnachie, the 16-year-old from Hamilton, South Lanarkshire who is also an up-and-coming international swimmer said: “I feel privileged to compete as it allows me to experience representing my country in two sports. I am excited to play alongside great teammates and against tough competition.” When asked about the team’s potential he said: “I think our squad has the potential to do well as we have good chemistry on and off the court.”
Representing Wales is TCAT Warriors’ Frankie Jones, the 19-year-old from Llanfair Caereinion, Powys said: “I always look forward to representing Wales. I take great pride in being a Welshman, so I want to represent Wales as best as possible. It is a great sociable experience as the teams will be highly competitive on the court but best friends off the court, this is what makes the tournament a highlight of my year.” When asked about the team’s potential he said: “Wales have a young squad mixed in with a few experienced players, hopefully, this combination will work for the team. However, we may struggle against more experienced teams, despite this, I still have high hopes for Wales.”
Representing Northern Ireland is NI Knights’ Aaron Gillen, the 19-year-old from Antrim, County Antrim said: “It always feels great to compete, it’s the only tournament of the year where all the junior teams are present; so, it’s a unique occasion. Personally, it will be my last year competing so it’s going to be special for me. I’ve always loved the tournament and believe it’s the best weekend of the year, it’s always an honour to be selected to represent my country.” When asked about the team’s potential he said: “As always, we’re optimistic, our aim is to do the best we can as a team to win. It’s more about team performance than the result of the game for us, we have a few young players coming into the squad and we want to integrate them into the squad as smoothly as possible.”
Representing the North West is Manchester Mavericks’ Fin Tonner, the 17-year-old from Sale, Cheshire said: “I enjoy playing in the tournament every year. The competition level is very high and the medal places are hotly contested. There is always good basketball being played. It’s a lot of fun and has provided me with great memories.” When asked about the team’s potential he said: “We’re confident that we can do well but, it won’t be easy as there are so many good teams competing.”
Representing the North East is Tees Valley Titans’ Brooke Mottram, the 16-year-old from Gateshead, Newcastle-upon-Tyne who is involved in the GB Women’s U25 programme said: “It’s always a huge honour to represent the North East as you compete against the best players at junior level. It’s also great to meet up with friends from around the country, however, that changes when we’re on the court.” When asked about the team’s potential she said: “I hope we do well, our team has a lot of potential. I think our first game is more about learning to play together competitively and I love the fact that my team are great friends so that we can trust each other on and off the court.”
Representing Yorkshire is Wakefield Whirlwinds’ Oscar Kemp, the 17-year-old from Wakefield, West Yorkshire said: “It feels amazing to compete, wheelchair basketball is a great game to play and I’m happy to be part of the great team.” When asked about the team’s potential he said: “I’m hoping that we can do well and hopefully come away with a medal.”
Representing the East is CWBA’s Sam Mack, the 19-year-old from Norwich, Norfolk who is also a current GB U23 Men’s World Champion said: “It feels great to be competing in my last year, it gives me a chance to play alongside guys I’ve grown up playing the sport with and it will be a fun weekend.” When asked about the team’s potential he said: “We are going to gold.”
Representing the East Midlands and South West combined team is Leicester Cobras’ Lucy Robinson, the 18-year-old from Loughborough, Leicestershire who is also involved in the GB Women’s U25 programme said: “I’m very excited to be playing. It’ll be interesting to see how we gel as a team as we haven’t played together before. We’ll be arriving early before our first game so we can bond as a team and discuss tactics so we’ll get an idea of how we’re going to play together, it’ll be exciting to see what happens.” When asked about the team’s potential she said: “It will depend on how well we can adapt and play together as a team. I personally think we all have personalities and skills to get on well with each other and do our best to use that to our advantage.”
Representing the defending champions the West Midlands is London Titans’ Sophie Paterson, the 19-year-old from Shrewsbury, Shropshire who made her GB women’s senior debut at the European Championships this year said: “It’s exciting to compete in the tournament. It means I get a chance to see people from all over the country and have a fun weekend.” When asked about the team’s potential she said: “We have a strong squad, we hope to continue our gold medal winning streak especially since a lot of our players will be too old next year.”
Representing the South East is Sussex Bears’ Lanre Sowami, the 19-year-old from Brighton, East Sussex who is a GB U23 said: “This will be my last year playing in the competition but, it feels fantastic to know that I will be competing against some of the best juniors in the country whilst also representing my region.” When asked about the team’s potential he said: “Last year, South East got bronze at the event, which was never achieved in the history of the region until then, this year we are aiming to become champions.”
Representing London is London Titans’ Alazar Legesse, the 19-year-old from Lewisham, southeast London said: “The excitement of competing every year doesn’t go away. Getting on the court and representing your region is a great achievement. This year is my last year so it’ll feel a bit different compared to others.” When asked about the team’s potential he said: “I think our team can do well in the tournament. We have great coaches and players, most of us have played together before and if we give it our best and play how we know we can, it will lead to success.”
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Stay tuned for next week’s article reviewing the National Junior Championships, catching up with players and coaches who were victorious at the tournament.
By Dylan Cummings