This week’s article will be highlighting the success of the Scotland wheelchair basketball team following their history making win at the 2017 School Games. They defeated England South to become the first-ever home nation to win a medal at School Games in wheelchair basketball.
I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of the Scotland programme since 2014 and I have just graduated from the U19s squad. There has been a lot of ups and downs through the years for the squad and I hope this article provides an insight into the journey the U19s team has been through to get on the medal podium.
When I first joined the programme, I was very inexperienced and so was the squad. It’s been phenomenal for me to see how many young players have developed over the years and matured quickly to take on the responsibilities of team leadership. Scotland’s players have transitioned well from the U15s pathway to U19s and have become key threats within the age group which is why I think we have become increasingly more successful as the years go on.
basketballscotland’s wheelchair basketball programme, began undergoing changes when renowned coach Tina Gordon became basketballscotland wheelchair basketball development officer five years ago, when herself and her husband, 3x GB Paralympian Callum Gordon decided to move to Bathgate, West Lothian. Gordon, who was born in Newport, South Wales has been coaching wheelchair basketball for 25 years, she started her coaching career by coaching the Sheffield Steelers juniors while she was studying at Sheffield Hallam University. She has always enjoyed coaching at junior level and thus expressed interest in coaching Scotland at U19 and U23 level.
I asked Tina how she has enjoyed watching the squad develop over the years, she said: “I’ve loved watching our players develop into young adults as well as basketball players. Our programme promotes a holistic approach and looks at developing people’s confidence, self-esteem and leadership skills. We abide by basketballscotland’s core values; dedication, responsibility, teamwork and progress. These values are reinforced on and off the court. Our players are growing in maturity and have learned valuable lessons over the years leading to them performing well as a team.”
Tina described Scotland’s recent success as “amazing” she added: “Players have taken individual responsibility to improve their game which has resulted in brilliant team performances at the competitions over the summer. The squad is still young and I have no doubt that they will improve even more over this coming season. We have a great setup within the programme and the future is certainly bright for the Scotland wheelchair basketball squads.” Gordon would like to thank all the people who have been a part of the wheelchair basketball team staff over the years, including; Stevie Duff, Shirley-Anne Smith, Darren Smith, Niall Ritchie, Mark Stevenson, Rab O’Rorke, Danny McKinlay, Jen Scally, Grant Wilson, Gemma Lumsdaine and Sally Lumsdaine.
As I mentioned before Tina had connections to Sheffield and through her connections she was able to find out if any Steelers’ players had Scottish heritage. One of those players was Mark Scholefield who was eligible at the time due to his grandparents being Scottish. Scholefield who is originally from Halifax, West Yorkshire played for the U19s in 2011 and the U23s from 2011 to 2015 when they changed the eligibility rule. However, he was a key player in the early days of the development of the programme.
Leading up to the School Games in 2011, Scotland were struggling to field a squad for the tournament. They asked dual national players if they wanted to be a part of the team. Scholefield and two other dual nationals said yes, so they could enter a team into the competition. Mark was honoured to be named captain of the squad. The team did well considering they were thrown together last minute and finished fifth, beating Wales. When Scholefield left the programme, it was a bittersweet moment as he was sad that he was no longer eligible but, pleased to see the amount of young talent progressing within the programme.
He commented on the success at this year’s School Games by saying: “It was incredible to watch the team succeed. After so many years of finishing the tournament in either the 5th or 6th position, for them to win the bronze medal when the competition was as tough as it’s ever been is a fantastic accomplishment. It was a very proud moment for me and gave me the feeling that the best is yet to come for the Scotland programme.”
Another athlete who has been a key figure for Scotland since day one is David Ion. Ion is originally from Alva, Clackmannanshire but, he moved to Newcastle upon Tyne when he was eight and started his wheelchair basketball career with the Newcastle Eagles at the age of 13 in 2008. He played for the U19s from 2010 to 2014 and the U23s from 2011 to present. He is currently living in Madrid, playing abroad in the top Spanish league for Getafe BSR.
He talked about the sense of pride he feels when playing Scotland by saying: “I had always wanted to represent my country in anything I do. It means so much to me to represent Scotland as it’s always an honour to put on my Scotland vest. I feel so privileged whenever I play for Scotland.”
He continued, by explaining his role when he was in the U19s: “My role was to play as the main forward for the team and help others to push themselves so they can become the best version of themselves.”
He gave his thoughts on Scotland’s recent success saying: “When I see my Scotland teammates succeed it means so much to me. I am very happy to see where the team has progressed to. The young talent we have in the programme will make our national team succeed even more. I am proud to call myself Scottish.”
Two players who were key influences in U19s squad when I was first in the programme were Luke Pearce and Nick Donnelly.
Pearce is a guy that I’ve always regarded as one of the most underrated players in the game. The Edinburgh, Midlothian native first got involved with the Scotland squad in 2011 when it was suggested to him by the late Stevie Duff that he should go down to Stoke Mandeville and play for the team, he played for the U19s until 2014 and the U23s from 2012 till present.
He talked about how his role evolved within the squad when he played for the U19s by saying: “As time passed, my role increased from being a squad member to being lucky enough to be named co-captain during my final years in the U19s. this allowed me to develop my leadership skills and become a better all-around player.”
When he was asked about Scotland’s recent success he said: “It’s a fantastic achievement for the current squad to achieve a bronze medal. I’ve seen first-hand the hard work that has gone into squad training leading up to the competition, not only from the players but the coaching staff too. The entire performance programme for wheelchair basketball in Scotland is getting better.”
Donnelly, from Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire first got involved with the Scotland squad in 2013, when he was scouted at a Paralympic pathways event by Tina Gordon. She suggested that he should trial for the U19s squad that year. He described getting selected by saying: “I couldn’t believe that I got picked. Playing for the U19s was a brilliant experience from the first training session to all the competitions I went to.” He played for the U19s from 2013 to 2015 and the U23s from 2014 to present although currently he is side-lined with an injury.
His role in the squad was to be an effective guard and help the forwards get into the key while also taking shooting opportunities when presented. He explained further by saying: “I was able to develop leadership skills by encouraging others and passing on my knowledge to newer players.”
He spoke about the success of Scotland: “What they’ve achieved is brilliant. It shows how far they’ve come and how much they’ve improved on and off the court.”
Current co-captain Josh Manson played for the U15s in 2012 and 2013 before progressing onto the U19s and U23s from 2014 onwards. On a personal note, the way Josh has developed over the past three years is beyond unbelievable. He was thrown into the U19s when he was barely eligible for the age group and now he has developed into a truly dominant forward, I am so proud of him and I know that going to Tees Valley will only benefit his development. I am so happy that he is getting the opportunity to play in the Premier League this season.
Manson from Edinburgh, Midlothian talked about why he enjoys playing for Scotland by saying: “It is a massive honour to represent my country and know that I am making people proud of me. I love the feeling I get when I put on my Scotland vest, it gives me a confidence boost and motivation to keep improving.”
He also spoke about the success of Scotland by saying: “To see the squad succeed is so emotional and inspirational for myself. We spent years building the squad up from scratch and the hard work has paid off. We went from being a squad that was overlooked by a lot of teams and now people are starting to consider Scotland as a threat.”
I caught up with the “rookie” of the squad, Adam Donnachie. The well accomplished swimmer from Hamilton, South Lanarkshire said: “It felt weird in the rookie of the squad because I have been to previous School Games and captained the Scotland swimming team.”
He discussed his role by saying: “I play the role of being a threat inside the key whilst also using my height to get rebounds. When I’m on the bench I’m one of the loudest players, I create a good vibe and give all my teammates support.”
He described how it felt to win a bronze medal in his wheelchair basketball debut at School Games: “It’s tremendous to see the squad make history. We are such a close team and I love the fact that I got my first School Games medal in a sport that I’m still relatively new to.”
I hope this article gave an accurate reflection on Scotland’s journey through the years and a preview of what is to come for the future of the Scotland wheelchair basketball squads. Stay tuned, I’ll be back next week.
Written by Dylan Cummings