Historic Championships for Scotland
An unheralded group of young Hoopers, the Scotland U15 and U19 Wheelchair Basketball squads have made the long journey to Worcester to compete in The Lord Taverner’s Junior Championships. The Church of Hoops made the journey too, to bring you the story directly from the team.
Arriving late in the evening after an almost 8 hour journey didn’t phase any of those involved, it was just another trip they had to make, long – as usual. Wheelchair Basketball teams travelling is something I recommend everyone experiences once in their life. You don’t just pack your kit and go, you have to play multiple games of Tetris to get the chairs in, sometimes even two and then theres the spare wheels. These guys make it look easy.
Wheelchair Basketball is almost a completely different sport, it is so much more technical and tactical, the score board won’t pop out to everyone, but to understand what it takes to even put two points up, it gives you a greater understanding of how difficult the sport is. We sat in awe at the speed the teams pick up, the physicality and the skill required. The inclusitivioty is also something that amazed us to begin with. Whilst British Wheelchair Basketball draws a lot of support from different Disability Sport agencies, such as Scottish Disability Sport, abled body players are almost a part of every team, and the playing field is levelled. No one has one clear cut advantage over the other.
The Squad selection is something to be admired, the way you can substitute players forces coaches to use those mathematical qualifications. The five players on court each have a classification ranging from 1-5, 5 being an abled bodied player. All five on court must add up to a certain number that can vary between different levels, always around 14.
The Scotland U15 Squad was as follows:
|Charlie Redmond||2.0||Lothian Phoenix|
|Blair Marshall||2.5||Dundee Dragons|
|Daniel McLoughlin||2.5||Glasgow Rocks|
|Jason Giles||2.5||Lothian Phoenix|
|Ronnie Cassels||2.5||Glasgow Rocks|
|Ben Flanigan||3.0||Lothian Phoenix|
|Shayne McVicar||3.0||Dundee Dragons|
|Finlay Erskine||4.5||Lothian Phoenix|
|Owen Leitch||5.0||Dundee Dragons|
|Sarah McCaffrey||5.0||Glasgow Rocks|
Head Coach: Niall Ritchie (Lothian Phoenix)
Assistant Coach: Conor Smart (Lothian Phoenix)
The Scotland U19 Squad:
|David Beattie (2)|
|James Beattie (5)|
|Josh Manson (3.5)|
|Rory Geddes (4)|
|Tom McCaffrey (2)|
|Logan Kidd (4)|
|Rhys Colliar (1)|
|Cameron Watson (4.5)|
|Ben Leitch (4.5)|
|Adam Donnachie (3.5)|
Head Coach: Jen Scally
Assistant Coach: Tina Gordon/ Gary Davidson
Team Manager: Brian Borland
The University of Worcester Arena played host to this years Junior Championships, with both U15 and U19’s competing at the same venue, it really was an action packed hall.
The U15’s were put in two groups:
|Group A||Group B|
|South East (SE)||Wales (WAL)|
|North West (NW)||Yorkshire (YORKS)|
|North East (NE)||East Midlands (EM)|
|West Midlands (WM)||London (LON)|
The U19’s were in two groups as follows:
|Group A||Group B|
|West Midlands (WM)||North West (NW)|
|Yorkshire (YORKS)||South East (SE)|
|East (EAST)||Scotland (SCO)|
|Northern Ireland (NI)||Wales (WAL)|
|London (LON)||North East (NE)|
|East Midlands (EM)|
The U15 team is something to be amazed at, these players aren’t really Under 15, a lot of them can be U12, so there is a real mix in age. However, this is right across the country, with all teams having quite a few younger players.
Head Coach Niall Ritchie has spent many years working with players this age and has guided the national team through a “rebuilding process”, as documented by basketballscotland. A last place finish last year meant everyone involved was looking for improvement.
The team started 0-3, with some very strong performances from the team overall but Sarah McCaffrey and Ronnie Cassels were two of the oldest, but leaders on court. Narrowly missing out on that first W against West Midlands meant going into Game 4, a win was needed. With all the signs showing a strong team, they bounced back against the North West and claimed a commanding victory. With this win, they sat joint 3rd in their group but finished with sole ownership of 3rd seed on points difference going into Sunday.
The U19’s started their campaign off strong, boasting commanding wins over Wales and and The South East to started undefeated. Coach Scally took her team out for a pre-game talk ahead of their game 3 match up against, North West, loosing 27-18.
Scottish standouts Ben Leitch (Glasgow Rocks) and Josh Manson (Tees Valley Titans) led the team in scoring, with James Beattie (Carlisle Panthers) chipping in too. This is a team that has been together for a long time, matured and grown, having competed at U15’s in previous years too.
Seeding was all to play for going into the final game of day one, facing North East, a win would secure second place in the group.
The execution was on point from everyone on the floor as they came off with a 16-8 victory, giving confidence going into Sundays finals day.
“Day 1 complete, time to prepare for history”
Back at the hotel, we caught up with Scottish Junior Wheelchair Basketball standouts Ben Leitch and Josh Manson, to get an insight into what its like playing at these competitions.
Sitting with them both, I realised these are two team first guys, everything they said was about the team.
“I think we feel pretty good as a squad” Manson said regarding the confidence levels in the camp going into finals day, “we’re all gelled together and playing as a team, we’re feeling quite strong and positive, we’re motivated.”
We asked about his personal performances, but again it was more important to him how well the team performed,
“I think all the games have been very positive for us, I think that game [the one loss in the group] is the only time we weren’t in sync as a squad. After that we’ve gelled back together as a squad,” Manson thanked the bench, “the games can be quite long and tiring, so its good to have a strong bench to allow starters to get a break.”
Ben told me that he and the team were taking it a game at a time, “we’ve got a good chance this year. The squads developed over the past year, since last years Junior Champs. We have a strong chance, strong side, strong chance. We’ve just got to go out and prove people wrong.”
“Personally, I’ve played okay, some better than others,” Ben admitted, but thanked his team, “with a strong team, using what we have, we’ve been moving the ball, running our sets, using the fast break.”
Confidence speaks for itself
There was an air of confidence around the U19 squad, a level or professionalism brought by the staff. Being around the guys gave us a chance to see these fantastic athletes in a totally different setting, the games don’t stop at the buzzer. Each player is hungry to improve and get as far as they can.
Rory Geddes, Grampian Flyers, is one of the newer players to the game, but being around the experienced players of Manson, Leitch and and Logan Kidd, gave him the feedback he needed to turn into a solid player coming off the bench.
Scotland U15’s third place finish meant they qualified for the knock out stages, giving them a quarter-final matchup v Yorkshire, Heartbreakingly it was not to be for the team as they lost out by a mere 4 points, meaning the highest they could place was 5th (which looking at ht competition and last years results, is really something quite impressive). It was a 5th/6th place game next for Scotland as they faced East Midlands. Scottish Superiority prevailed as they commanded a 23-14 win securing a fifth place finish.
The U19’s were too in the knock out stages, dominating their group.
As documented on our Instagram Story (@thechurchofhoops) Scotland made light work of East Midlands in their quarter final matchup taking a 26-12 win, securing a place in the semi finals. Scotland then edged out a 22-17 win over West Midlands, granting them a ticket to the final.
Making the final was historic for Scotland, the U19’s have never reached this far in any Junior Championships. The elation and relief on all of the players faces told a story, something they’d been working for, for a long time.
North West was their Gold Medal opponents, the only team to beat Scotland in the group stages. A team Scotland knew would be tougher than the rest.
Scotland got off to a poor start, getting themselves into a 14-4 halftime deficit. Coach Scally having a stern word at half, the boys came out fighting to start the second half, closing the gap to a single basket with 4 minutes left. But, North West were too much for Scotland as they went on to claim gold 24-16.
Scotland were still immensely proud of their silver medal pick up, the highest ever finish for the U19’s at Junior Championships.
Tina Gordon, Wheelchair Development officer, Disability Talent and Pathways Manager for basketballscotland said,
“Very Proud of this group of people. Wee bit of History made – Silver medal in British Wheelchair Basketball’s ‘Lord’s Taverners National Junior Championships’. Congrats Coach Jen Scally and all the Scotland U19 squad.”
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