As one of the oldest, fastest and most popular Para sports, wheelchair basketball is expected to draw much attention during the Paralympic Games. Here are 10 players who are set to make the headlines.
Mayo Hagino (JPN)
For Japan’s Mayo Hagino, a stalwart low-pointer that has been with the national team since 2010, the Tokyo Paralympics represents an opportunity to accomplish something the Japanese team has not done in over 20 years – win a Paralympic medal. That was long before Hagino got her start in the sport after seeing it at Beijing 2008. She picked up wheelchair basketball in 2009 – and made the national team in time for the 2010 World Championships, where Japan finished 7th.
After her first Worlds experience, Hagino put on the Japan jersey for the 2011 and 2015 U25 World Championships, where she was named one of the Top 5 players. Born with a spinal tumor that severely limits her ability to move, Hagino has been in a wheelchair since childhood. She is currently one of only two women on Miyagi Max in Japan’s Premiere League – which is one of two teams she has led to a national championship. Can she lead Japan to a memorable title at home in Tokyo?
Ⓒ Getty Images
Ismail Ar (TUR)
One of the top low-pointers in the world, Turkey’s captain Ismail Ar is one of the most experienced players in the game. Now entering his third Paralympic Games, Ar is hungry to claim a historic first Paralympic medal for Turkey following a fourth place-finish at Rio 2016. After securing the team’s first-ever European championship in 2017, Ar may have finally figured out the winning formula.
Ar lost the use of his legs when he was 16 during the devastating Izmit earthquake in 1999 that claimed his childhood home and the lives of over 17,000 people. He joined his local team in 2007 and was called up to Super League’s Galatasaray in 2009. Captain of Galatasaray for over a decade, he has helped the team win five Champions League titles. Still, his fondest memories come from his time with the national team, especially winning Turkey’s first medals at the European championships (silver in 2009) and World Championships (bronze in 2014).
Ⓒ Hamburg 2018 LOC
Joy Haizelden (GBR)
Haizelden is another Ones to Watch whose talent was discovered at a young age. She picked up the sport in secondary school and became the youngest player to represent Great Britain when she helped the team win bronze at the 2014 World Championships as a 15-year-old.
Since then, Haizelden has helped Great Britain see some groundbreaking results, including a U25 World Championship (2015), a U24 European silver (2019) – in which she captained the team – and silver medals at both the senior World and European Championships. She nearly added a Paralympic medal, but Great Britain lost the bronze medal match to the Netherlands at Rio 2016.
Haizelden has starred for CWBA in Britain’s Premier Division but will be moving to powerhouses Alabama Lady Movin’ Mavs in the USA’s intercollegiate league next year, where she will try to help the team to a third straight – and eighth overall – NWBA championship. But first, the 2019 U25 Worlds all-star is hoping to lead the Great Britain women’s team to its first-ever Paralympic medal.
Ⓒ Uli Photo
Jake Williams (USA)
Few players in wheelchair basketball have seen success at as many levels as Jake Williams. Recruited at 16 from the hospital where he was rehabbing following an accident that left him paralysed, the 185cm Williams moved directly to a local NWBA junior team. He made the jump to the national collegiate league in 2010 and captured the championship with the UWW Warhawks in 2014. Recruited to the national team, Williams helped the USA win Parapan Am gold in 2015 before capturing his first Paralympic title at Rio 2016.
Known as much for his playmaking as for his dangerous 3-point range, Williams now plays pro in Germany for the RSB Thuringia Bulls, where he has already added Champions League trophies to his collection. He nearly added a third straight in 2021 before falling in a close final to RSV-Lahn Dill.
Ⓒ Uli Photo
Rose Hollermann (USA)
There may be no player in the world better than Rose Hollermann, who will be important as defending Paralympic champions USA look to rebound from a disappointing sixth place finish at the most recent World Championships. Still just 25 years old, Hollermann has been a mainstay on American junior and senior teams since 2011, racking up trophies and individual accolades along the way.
A 3-time national junior champion, she led her university team, the UTA Lady Movin’ Mavs, to three national championship finals and two titles. Hollermann has won gold with the national team at the U20 Worlds (2010), the U25 Worlds (2011, 2019), and two Parapan Am Games (2011, 2015).
She was the youngest player on the senior team from her debut at the 2011 Worlds through to the 2016 Paralympic Games, where she also secured gold.
Ⓒ OIS Photos
Gregg Warburton (GBR)
Few players have been part of the Great Britain programme longer than Gregg Warburton – and few have seen as much success. Before leading his country to its first ever World Championship title in 2018 – where he made the tournament all-star team and was named MVP – Warburton had been an anchor of every junior team he played on.
Competing at an elite level since before he was in U15, Warburton has won national junior (U19) gold, European junior (U22) gold, and World junior (U22) gold. This junior success led Warburton to being honoured as one of eight flagbearers at the Opening Ceremonies when London hosted the Paralympic Games in 2012.
Just 19 when he played an instrumental role in Great Britain’s bronze medal run at Rio 2016, he will be looking to lead the reigning world champions to a first-ever Paralympic gold medal.
Ⓒ Getty Images
Suiling Lin (CHN)
Since hosting the Paralympics in 2008, the Chinese women’s national team has steadily been on the rise. Not only it has made the knockout stage at three straight Paralympics, but the team made the medal round at the most recent World Championships, losing a squeaker 44-43 to Germany. More than that, the team now boasts a bona fide superstar – Suiling Lin – who will be competing in her first Paralympic Games.
Starring for Guangdong in China’s national league, the speedy Lin was dominant in leading China to gold at home at the 2017 Asia-Pacific Championship. Not only was she named to the All-Star team, but she was also named the tournament MVP. She led her club team to the national championship the following year, before nearly capturing China’s first-ever medal at the World Championships. If China grab a history-making medal in Tokyo, Lin will play a major role.
Tom O’Neill-Thorne (AUS)
Practically born with a basketball in his hand and a wheelchair underneath him, Australian prodigy Tom O’Neill-Thorne continues to show why he is one of the best players in the world.
In a wheelchair from age two due to a congenital condition at birth, O’Neill-Thorne picked up wheelchair basketball when he was nine. By the time he was 14, he had already landed a gig with the Queensland Spinning Bullets of NWBL – Australia’s Premier League. At 16, he finished as a Top 10 scorer in the league.
The national programme took notice and he represented Australia at several tournaments, including the U23 team that won bronze at the 2013 World Championships. He landed a coveted spot on Australia’s senior team and became the youngest Australian to ever play at the Worlds when he helped the team win gold in 2014.
Now an established superstar, O’Neill-Thorne is one of the highest-scoring point guards in the game. He will be looking to help Australia improve on its quarter-final exit at Rio 2016.
Ⓒ Getty Images
Bo Kramer (NED)
Bo Kramer is looking to do what no Dutch woman has ever done – lead her team to a Paralympic gold. A perennial favourite, the Netherlands have made it to the Paralympic semifinals five times since 1988, without yet winning gold. Expectations have been ramped up since the team won its first-ever World Championship gold in 2018 – a tournament in which Kramer was instrumental.
One of the youngest Paralympians at Rio 2016, the now 22-year-old Kramer will arrive in Tokyo as one of the sport's brightest young stars. She led the team in scoring in two of the three 2018 World Championship playoff games to finish as the tournament’s second highest scorer. Already one of the sport’s most agile players – with a fantastic shot from range – Kramer moved to the RBBL2’s Hot Rolling Bears Essen club team in order to optimise her training ahead of Tokyo.
Ⓒ Getty Images
Omid Hadiazhar (IRI)
Iran’s Omid Hadiazhar is on a mission to lead Iran to its first-ever wheelchair basketball medal at the Paralympic Games. One of the most agile and talented players in the world, Hadiazhar led Iran to the 2018 World Championship semifinals before falling to eventual champions Great Britain. The team fell just short of winning a historic medal when it lost to Australia 68-57 in the bronze medal match. Hadiazhar led the team in scoring in both games to win the tournament scoring title and was named to the all-star team for his efforts.
Playing professionally for Valladolid in the Spanish League, the 4.0 player will lead Iran at the Paralympic Games for the second time and seems certain to improve on their 10th place finish at Rio 2016.
Ⓒ Uli Photo