Nothing is going to be easy for the P.E.I. Mustangs at the 2012 Canadian Wheelchair Basketball League open final and that’s just how the Island squad likes it.
“It’s good to get to play against the best players and teams in Canada. Good to see where we’re ranked,’’ said Joel Watts, member of the Mustangs, on Tuesday at a press conference in Charlottetown. “I think we can be competitive. Obviously going to be tough competition . . . top-of-the-line talent.’’
Parasport and Recreation P.E.I., the City of Charlottetown and Wheelchair Basketball Canada are combining to host the nationals which runs Friday through Sunday at UPEI.
Eighth-ranked P.E.I. opens the tourney against the top-seeded and defending champ Variety Village Rebels from Ontario. Game time is 10:30 a.m.
The bronze medal game is Sunday at 10 a.m., followed by the gold medal game at noon.
The top eight competitive wheelchair basketball club teams in Canada are in the city for the first time since 1992, when Charlottetown last hosted.
Watts and his brother Jeremy aren’t slouches at the game, either. The Charlottetown natives have tryouts later this summer for the men’s under-23 national team in Toronto. That team will play in the world championship next summer in Turkey.
And the competitive fire is strong in Jeremy as
well, so he wouldn’t concede either.
“We have a lot of speed. And we’ve been practicing a lot,’’ said Jeremy, who along with Joel were named to the Edney Division all-star team.
Wheelchair basketball is fast-paced, physical, sweaty, chairs often crash or turn over. Fouls are called the same as in basketball. Players use their chairs to jam up opponent’s forward progress. The chairs are steel-framed, tall sleek-wheeled weapons. Chairs are $3,500-$10,000 not including wheels which run about $900 per pair.
This season, the Mustangs (ranked eighth at this weekend’s nationals) placed third in Edney Division of the Maritime Wheelchair Basketball League and after an injury-riddled playoffs, finished fourth to end the 2012 campaign.
Teams are made up of disabled and able-bodied co-ed athletes. Individual players capabilities are ranked by a points system from .5 to 4.5 which can’t exceed 15 total points per team on the floor at any given time.
The two Watts were joined on Tuesday by one of the females on the co-ed Mustangs. Sarah Gillis of Kensington is able-bodied and a rookie.
She got hooked on the sport after a chance encounter with the Mustangs and is ready for whatever the national tourney brings.
“I was at the rink one night, saw them practising, got in a chair and loved it,’’ said Gillis. “I like it co-ed. It makes me more competitive. (The physical nature of the game) doesn’t bother me.’’
The tournament also features Team Canada veteran Dave Durepos of Fredericton, N.B., who will compete in his fifth Paralympic Games this summer in London,
The Watts brothers along with Mustangs teammates Ronnie McPhee and Adam Loo were members of Team P.E.I. at the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax, N.S.
P.E.I. finished in sixth place at the Games.
Live gold and bronze medal-game webcasts at www.wheelchairbasketball.ca.