DUBAI, 20th May 2017: Great Britain edged out Thailand 50-48 in a thrilling final of the 9th Fazza Wheelchair Basketball International Championship – Dubai 2017 held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Sports Council, at the Maktoum bin Mohammed Al Maktoum indoor hall at Al Ahli Club, Dubai on Thursday 18th May, to emerge champions for the first time.
Hosts UAE battled gamely against Japan who won the 3rd/4th place play-off 58-42 on the fifth and final of the tournament.
The seven-team competition was organized and supervised by the Dubai Club for People of Determination with the support of their strategic partners Dubai Sports Council, IWBF (International Wheelchair Basketball Federation), the General Authority for Youth and Sports Welfare (GAYSW) and the UAE Paralympic Committee.
The participating countries were South Africa, Japan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Great Britain and hosts UAE.
The awarding ceremony was attended by HE Thani Juma Berregad, Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the Fazza Wheelchair Basketball International Championship – Dubai 2017 and Ali Omar, Director of Sports Development at Dubai Sports Council and HE Majid Abdullah Al Usaimi, Director of Fazza Championships for the Disabled, who described the match between Great Britain and Thailand as the greatest final he has seen in nine years of Fazza Wheelchair Basketball International Championship.
The high-intensity clash between two quality sides lived upto its billing from the opening whistle keeping the large crowd on the edge of their seats till the final hooter was blown.
After an evenly contested first period which was tied 10-10, Britain surged ahead 26-20 at half time despite the efforts of the tournament leading sharp shooter Aekkasit Jumjarean who sunk five baskets in quick succession.
Thailand fought back in the third quarter through the skills of Athin Singdon and Kwanchai Pimkorn who sunk a three-pointer to edge out Britain 43-42 and set the stage for a thrilling finale.
After a ding-dong battle, Team GB nosed ahead 49-45 after a breakway effort Lee Fryer while Singdong missed with a couple of rebound efforts.
Jumjarean then turned the game on its head by sinking a three-point shot as Thailand trailed by just one point 48-49 with 15 seconds remaining on the clock.
Team GB skipper Gregg Warburton was successful with a free throw to give them a crucial 50-48 lead with 10 seconds to go.
There is many a slip between the cup and lip but tantalizingly Jumjarean’s long-range effort hit the rim of the hoop moments after which the final hooter went.
“This is my first time in Dubai in general and I absolutely loved the tournament. To end on a win was sensational. We were leading for a long time in the game. Towards the end, they had a really good run. We weathered it really well and managed to pull it back and hold for the win in the end,” said an elated Warburton who top scored with 19 points and was adjudged Player of the Tournament for brilliantly leading the side to their maiden triumph in Dubai. Ben Fox contributed 11 points.
“It is a perfect start for us. To come here and get a win against really strong opponents especially Thailand really gives us a kick start for the World Championships. We were really unlucky at the European Championships. We have really improved a lot since then. For me if this team doesn’t get a medal at the World Championships, I will be really disappointed,” said Warburton as they head out to Toronto, Canada for the World Under 23 Wheelchair Basketball Championships in a fortnight.
“The win was great but what was really important was havng a good game in the final. Last game was a really good challenge and that’s what we are going to expect at the world championships. It was absolutely brilliantly to have a team like Thailand come out and put us through our paces. It was a really tough win,” said Team GB coach Scott Wallace.
Great Britain got an unexpected bonus when Billy Bridge was appreciated for sharing his ‘success’ story in a social media campaign run by Dubai Club for People of Determination.
“I've been playing wheelchair basketball since I was 12. I’m going to be 22 this year. I talked about how wheelchair basketball changed my life basically. If I didn’t have wheelchair basketball, I don’t know what I would be doing. It took me off the streets and it gave me hope. It gave me friends. It taught me to go school. I’ve been all over the world. I get to travel to Dubai. This is my second time in Dubai. Dubai is such a beautiful place, such an amazing city. It was a fantastic tournament and I just had a great time,” said Bridge, who hopes to return with his girl friend Sophia on a holiday to Dubai next time.
“I live in Liverpool. I like all sports but only play wheelchair basketball. In September, I’m going to University to study politics. I’m looking forward to that,” said Bridge who feels they are ready to win a gold medal in Toronto after their final preparation in Dubai.
Jumjarean top scored with 19 points for Thailand for a tournament aggregate of 111 while Singdong (12) and Pimkorn (11) were the other contributors.
“We are looking forward to the Asean Games in October and Asia Oceanic Games which is qualification for the world championship. Normally this is off season in Thailand. Dubai tournament was a good experience for a young new players,” said Thailand coach Mohamed Riza.
UAE did not allow Japan to run away with the game closely marking their top sharpshooter Koki Maruyama who managed just four points. Takayoshi Iwai top scored for Japan with 14 points followed by Satoru Kumagai (10) and Ryuga Akaishi (11) as they swept to a 36-20 lead at half time with scores of 18-8 and 18-12 in the two periods. The third period was also closely contested with Japan edging out 14-8 while UAE bounced back to outscore their rivals in the final quarter 14-8.
Ibrahim Al Hammadi with his driving runs and skipper Mohammed Al Zarooni formed a deadly combination scoring 18 points apiece. Al Zarooni finished as the tournament’s second leading scorer with 70 points ahead of Japan’s Maruyama (66).
“Japan have talent and quality everywhere. We have just 15 players in the whole country and today we had nine on the bench. It’s amazing what we have done to come fourth,” said UAE coach Paul Claridge who took charge six months ago.
“We played with spirit. They didn’t pull out a lead. We clipped it back a little bit. We put some sort of pressure on them. Our guys are amateurs who trained once or twice a week whereas some Japanese players are professionals,” said the former Team GB Performance coach who took many positives from UAE’s performance.
“We are looking forward to qualifying for the Asian Paralympic Games in 2018. The UAE Disabled Sports Federation is eager to go out and find new talent,” added Claridge echoing the sentiments of Al Zarooni who called for new blood in the team.