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Australia’s U23 wheelchair basketball team departed the World Championships in Thailand last week with mixed results but left little doubt they’ll return a stronger, wiser and more complete side at the next gathering of the world’s best young players in three years’ time.

The Spinners improved as the Championship went on, toppling Israel and the US in their final two games after losing to both earlier in the tournament. The team’s credible fifth placing might have been better had they not lost to Germany by two points and the US by three points in the pool round – but sport is no place for ifs, buts and maybes.

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Instead, coach Brad Ness said the team would be better for the experience – for many it was their first major international competition – and sung the praises of the team’s two youngest players.

“We had one of the youngest teams there,” Ness said. “Five of our squad will be able to go through the cycle and play at the next U23 Worlds. And two of our starting five, Jaylen Brown and Eithen Leard, are 17, and they were taking it up to the world’s best players, which was pretty exciting.

“Very rarely do you get more than one or two players in a squad doing two cycles. For us to have five available for the next tournament is a great sign. The level of our top four or five players was definitely up at Rollers (senior) squad level.

“That’s what you want from an U23 tournament, to produce players that can actually graduate into the Rollers program. Not only as far as the style of play, but also what’s expected at that high performance level and going about playing the sport at the next level.”

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Ness predicted the two 17-year-olds, Brown and Leard, would get snapped up by the universities in America, while others who caught the attention of scouts could find themselves playing professionally soon.

“Jaylen was the big standout for me,” Ness said. “He got sick halfway through the tournament but came back strongly at the end. He really announced he’s going to be around for the next few years, so watch out.”

While Brown was potting nearly 20 points a game, the team struggled with its full-court defensive pressure, which they later adjusted.

“When we did that we were a whole lot better, hence finishing off with two wins,” Ness said.

“Other than that, it was just about maturity. It was about getting the guys to understand that they were going to have to be disciplined in the processes we put in place and also disciplined in their own choices on and off the court throughout the tour.

“Once the guys truly understood the reality of where they were and what was required, they were exceptional.

“In every game they played really good basketball. It was just about getting the 40 minutes out of them. Against Germany we had a three point shot on the buzzer to win it – we were literally in the game until the last second – we got back to within six or so of Israel, we were 12 up against Spain… We were in every game but just didn’t have the maturity level to get rolling earlier in the tournament, even though we finished off really well.”

By: David Sygall, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 21 September 2022
Image: International Wheelchair Basketball Federation