Unlikely Brumbies hero gets Nick fired up

Unlikely Brumbies hero gets Nick fired up

ACT Brumbies winger Clyde Rathbone is probably not the person you'd expect an aspiring Aussie wheelchair basketballer to call his hero writes John-Paul Moloney for The Canberra Times.

But for Nick Taylor, Rathbone's transition from leader of a junior South African sporting team to a fully-fledged Australian international has long been an inspiration.

Like former Springboks under-21s skipper Rathbone, Taylor was a captain of a junior South African national team, the under-18s basketball team.

But 10 years ago, shortly before an international championship, Taylor was left a paraplegic after a car accident. He took up wheelchair basketball 18 months later.

Four years ago he moved to Australia to play in the domestic league, but continued to represent South Africa at international competition, including last year's Paralympics.

Now 28, Taylor wants to represent the country he has made his home.

''I definitely look up to Clyde Rathbone in terms of the decisions he's made and how he's managed his career. I've aspired to be like him. He's a bit of a hero to me.''

Taylor will have to sacrifice plenty to achieve his goal of playing for Australia at the 2012 Paralympics, where the Rollers will try to defend the gold medal they won in Beijing.

To meet strict eligibility requirements he needs to sit out three years of international competition, including the next world championships. He says if he makes the team for London, that sacrifice will be worth it.

''Knowing this is where I'm going to spend the rest of my life, it would be such an honour to represent Australia, it really is insignificant the three years I have to sit out. I have to take a punt to make the team, but I back myself,'' he said.

Taylor was part of an Australian development squad undertaking speed and agility testing at the AIS on the weekend. 

The ''low to mid-pointers'' camp gave Rollers coach Ben Ettridge and staff the chance to assess several new players, minus the most functional ''high pointer'' athletes, who generally play the most dominant roles on court. 

''At this sort of camp we give the other guys the chance to take on those roles to help us develop all-round basketballers,'' Ettridg said. ''That's been part of our success, that our low and mid-pointers do produce when it's required because we've given them the chance.''

The Rollers hopes of winning a third gold medal in London (their previous win was in 1996) have been boosted by Ettridge's appointment last week as a full-time coach.

In the lead-up to last year's Paralympics, he had to quit his job as a teacher and prepare the team for the Games largely at his own expense. His delight at seeing his investment in the team pay off was evident when he rushed on to the court after the gold medal win and hoisted player Michael Hartnett above his head, chair and all. The victory over Canada had ended the defending champion's 23-game Paralympic winning streak.

Two-time Paralympian, guard Grant Mizens, said the greater resources backing the team would give the Rollers a much better shot at the next Games.

''In Beijing we were the underdogs, and we came in and rolled them. But it wasn't luck, we were the better team,'' Mizens said.