Australian Rollers ready for tour of Europe

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The Australian Rollers men’s national wheelchair basketball team depart for Europe on Thursday as they continue their preparations for the 2014 IWBF World Championships, with a two-week tour of the Netherlands and Belgium.

After announcing the extended 21-player squad for consideration for July’s World Championships last month, the Rollers have named a team of 12 players for the European tour that will take in games against Israel, Netherlands, Canada, Italy and Great Britain.

Seasoned Rollers internationals Justin Eveson, Brad Ness, Tristan Knowles and Shaun Norris will lead the team to Europe, where they will first head to Arnhem, Netherlands for a five-day training camp and games against the hosts and Israel.

Rollers Head Coach Ben Ettridge said the opportunity to spend two weeks together in a mix of training camp and games is a vital part of the team’s preparation for the World Championships.

“We value time together as a team more than anything; the widespread nature of the program means opportunities like this are immensely important for us,” Ettridge said.

“We will play Great Britain, Italy and the Netherlands – who have all qualified for the World Championships – and even though Canada failed to qualify, they are a quality outfit who are well coached and will test all facets of our game.”

From the Netherlands, the Rollers make the short journey to Blankenberge in Belgium for a five-nations tournament against some of the heavy hitters they will be expecting to face in the later stages of the World Championships.

Reigning Paralympic gold medallists Canada will lead the contenders for the 2014 Easter Tournament Wheelchair Basketball, with the Netherlands, Italy and Great Britain all looking to get the upper hand ahead of the World Championships in South Korea.

The Rollers will be without several key players for the European tour, with Paralympic silver medallists from London, Jannik Blair (studies), Bill Latham (the birth of his first child) and Michael Hartnett (injury), absent and emerging star Tom O’Neill-Thorne (studies) also unavailable.

This opens the door for several players to force their way into contention, with Joshua Allison, Marcus Chiavelli, Andrew Liddawi and Sam White earning selection for the tour. Ettridge said the onus is on these players to make the most of their opportunity over the coming two weeks.

“We rarely have gone to a tournament with our full-strength team,” Ettridge said.

“Our core group has played between 150-200 games for Australia, while the next group has between 80-150 games of international experience. On this tour we will have four players who have played less than 10 games for the Rollers.

“The onus will be on the more experienced players and the staff to assist the transition from the national to international level for these players.”

The Australian Rollers depart Thursday for The Netherlands where they will be based until the April 16, when they will travel to Blankenberge in Belgium for the Easter Tournament Wheelchair Basketball, returning to Australia on April 24.

For information on the 2014 Easter Tournament Wheelchair Basketball in Belgium visit http://www.papachamps.be/10th-easter-tournament-wheelchair-basketball.

The 2014 IWF Men’s Wheelchair Basketball World Championships takes place in Incheon, South Korea from 3-15 July.

Australian Rollers Squad – Tour of Europe

Joshua Allison                    Victoria

Marcus Chiavelli               Wollongong Rollerhawks

Michael D’Amelio             Victoria

Adam Deans                      Wollongong Rollerhawks

Justin Eveson                     Be Active Perth Wheelcats

Tristan Knowles                Victoria

Andrew Liddawi                Be Active Perth Wheelcats

Brad Ness                           Red Dust Heelers Adelaide

Shaun Norris                      Be Active Perth Wheelcats

Luke Pople                         Wollongong Rollerhawks

Nick Taylor                         Wollongong Rollerhawks

Sam White                         Red Dust Heelers Adelaide/University of Wisconsin, Whitewater