On a roll with the basketball


In late February, the women were in their final training camp at the Sports Authority of India facility in Aurangabad for the Central and East Asia Qualification Tournament in Bangkok for the Asian Para Games in Indonesia in October. The tournament concluded during the weekend, and the Indian women’s team ended up on the losing side.

Playing basketball in a wheelchair is tough. Both wheelchair and ball are controlled by the hands, and the player must shoot from a lower height than a player on her feet can. The players can’t jump, and for those who do not have muscular control over their lower bodies, all the strength must come from the upper back, shoulder and arms.

The players are from different parts of India and meet only for short training camps. It took the coaches — head coach Antony Pereira, with Lee Roy Simon and Thomas Kyle — some time to get them to play together as a team. At the SAI courts, the women were practising eight hours a day, with just two breaks. They lived in the same hostel, spending their off-hours together. This improved their coordination and morale. The coaching staff made the men’s team, also Bangkok-bound, to practise with the women. The men, who have been playing together longer, did not slow down their game for the women.

A player is allowed a push or two of her large wheels with the ball in her lap before she must dribble or bounce the ball on the floor. She can do this any number of times. The sports wheelchairs used for basketball differ from street wheelchairs in several ways. The chairs are lightweight, and do not have handles at the back. The seat back is lower, to allow the player to bend backwards. The wheels lean inwards at the top, to provide greater stability, especially on fast turns; this also provides some protection for the hands if there are collisions, or when two players are close to each other; there are two small caster wheels in front, and one extra caster at the back to prevent the player overbalancing when leaning backwards. A frame that extends beyond the footpads in front protects their legs and feet if the chairs collide.

Young players from a local basketball club felicitated the team and took selfies with the stars. The Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India was formed in 2014, when the first national championships were also held. From the beginning, training camps have been organised for both men and women. The federation sent 10 women players and two coaches to Thailand in April 2017 to participate in an international training camp. In the fourth Bali Cup International Tournament, the men’s and women’s team won bronze medals.

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