Friends face off on the basketball court

Though they’re friends off court, you wouldn’t know it watching the tough match between Saskatchewan and Alberta’s Canada Winter…

Though they’re friends off court, you wouldn’t know it watching the tough match between Saskatchewan and Alberta’s Canada Winter Games wheelchair basketball squads.

It was a close match. Saskatchewan won 54 to 51.

Being neighbours, the two provincial teams play each other often.

They know the other’s strengths and weaknesses, said Saskatchewan coach Julien Gaudet.

“I think it was the first test; I think we played well,” said Gaudet. “I think we did what we had to do when we had to do it and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.

“We played an adversary that knew us very well and they were well prepared to play us. They showed me what our weaknesses were, but we were very ready to play them.”

Saskatchewan played really hard in this match, said Gaudet.

“When you have people pursuing their dream here at Canada Games, everybody puts out their best effort and, sometimes, one team is luckily to prevail,” he said.

“Unfortunately in a situation like this two teams that are so close friends off the court have to play against each other in the first game.”

It was an aggressive game.

The wheelchairs clanked together,  bumper-car style, and the players often toppled out of their chairs onto the floor.

The game ended in a few foul shots for Team Alberta, which helped close the score gap between the two teams and finished with a foul shot for Saskatchewan where their best free thrower, Blaine Hancock scored two points to win with three seconds on the clock.

“It definitely was a very important foul shot situation at the end,” said team captain Raymond.

“This was a fairly aggressive game and it got more aggressive as it went on because it was a pretty close game at the end, but we play Alberta a lot and we’re all friends so it doesn’t leave the court.”

Some of the players don’t need wheelchairs, other do.

Gaudet is one who does.

He’s been playing competitive basketball for eight years and coaching for about five years.

Another reason this game was so special was because he was up against the Alberta coach, who is his mentor, he said.

“To be able to beat your mentor is always a good time,” he said.

“(The Alberta coach) has watched me play for many years, I’ve learned a lot from him and it’s nice to be able to go up against one of your mentors and show that you might have learnt a few things.”

Even so, the team has to work on its mental focus before its next game, said Gaudet.

The able-bodied star, Blaine Hancock, got into playing wheelchair basketball because his sister was in a car accident and confined to a wheelchair seven years ago.

His sister took up wheelchair rugby, which Hancock began playing before he was asked to play on the basketball team.

The team wanted him because he already knew how to wheel.

That was four years ago. He’s been playing wheelchair basketball almost every weekend ever since.

“It was a lot faster pace than I thought it would be when I came out. It was a tough challenge … we all play for other teams and, really, this is the first chance we’ve had to play as a team,” said Hancock.

“It’s nice to see us play as a team. There’s little things we’ve got to work out that we’ll figure out tonight.

“From there we’ll move on to tomorrow and figure out how we’re going to do it.”

A better offence and set up and a smoother game will be needed if the team is to prevail, he said.