Wheelchair basketball: Five things we learned from Rio 2016

Find out who surprised, who to watch for at Tokyo 2020 and more. 29 Sep 2016

One nation saw double gold in wheelchair basketball at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, while a few surprises signaled new anticipation for Tokyo 2020.

Find more of what was learned over 10 days of wheelchair basketball competition at Rio 2016:

US domination

For the first time in 28 years, both the US men and women’s teams claimed both gold medals at a Paralympic Games. Perhaps one of their strongest assets throughout the tournament was their scoring attack.

That was especially on display in the women’s finals, where the USA’s Rebecca Murray was on fire, making 60 per cent of her field goals. Germany, the defending champions, struggled to respond with points of their own, shooting 32 per cent in the game and falling 62-45.

For the men, the USA’s Jake Williams showcased his offensive prowess, finishing with 20 points (58 per cent) and Brian Bell (15 points, 78 per cent) being another threat as the US men defeated Spain 68-52.

Watch out for Spain

The Spanish men emerged as the unexpected finals team. Although hanging with the US through three quarters, their inexperience got to them in the fourth as the US pulled away for the victory. Still, Spain had clinched their country’s first medal in the sport’s history with the silver, showing how far the sport has come (and still has to come) in their country.

They barely qualified for Rio 2016 – just beating Italy to take the fifth and final qualifying slot at the 2015 European Championships. During the tournament, they defeated their two European rivals (Germany and Great Britain by no more than six points) and upset defending Paralympic champions Australia en route to the finals.

Much of their success was due to their size. Twins Alejandro and Pablo Zarzuela, who finished with 20 and 16 points respectively in the finals, especially wreaked havoc for the US inside the paint. Spain can only get bigger toward Tokyo 2020.

“We are changing things in wheelchair basketball in Spain,” Spanish coach Jose Manuel Artacho said after the gold medal game. “We hope we are doing the things right. Year by year, tournament by tournament, we show that we can do it. It is our goal.”

…and Great Britain

Both men and women’s teams showed growth since their home Paralympics at London 2012. Although young, the women’s team displayed their potential when they defeated heavyweights Germany during the preliminary rounds. They struggled to keep up with the more experienced Netherlands bunch in the bronze medal game, but Tokyo 2020 looks promising for a podium.

After just missing podium medal at London 2012, the British men took Turkey to a thrilling overtime victory for the bronze medal. Terry Bywater was unstoppable from the field, scoring 25 points and 22-year-old Phil Pratt proved one who can add more scoring damage in the future. Ian Sager (20 points) tasted the pains of finishing fourth at London 2012 and was a key leader in the British battle for bronze. Whether or not he and other veterans return in four years is up in the air.

Turkey’s time will come

Turkey on many occasions in the bronze medal game looked like they were going to capture their first ever Paralympic medal in the sport. But that dream slipped away minute by minute. Ozgur Gurbulak was determined to keep the Turkish hope alive by displaying why he is one of the best scorers in the sport, hitting clutch 3-pointers that kept Turkey in medal contention. The team went from seventh at London 2012 to just missing the podium in Rio. If they can refuel their team in four years, Tokyo 2020 might be their medal moment.

Will Germany and the Netherlands remain powerhouses ahead of Tokyo 2020?

The German and Dutch women’s teams have been podium finishers on the international stage over the last decade. For the German side, the question remains if many of their core will return to the court in four years’ time, including the team’s top offensive weapon Marina Mohnen. Their coach Holger Glinicki also said after the gold medal loss that the game was his last.

The Dutch women also inserted a range of experience level into their lineup. It would not be a surprise if 25-year-old scoring machine Mariska Beijer returned for Tokyo, as well as 18-year-old Bo Kramer. For veterans such as Inge Huitzing, Carina de Rooij and Roos Oosterbaan, Tokyo, like many others, will perhaps be decided after some well-deserved post-Rio relaxation.