31 August 2023

How the Canberra Gunners Wheelchair Basketball team became life-changing champions

| Tim Gavel
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Rohan Foy talking to wheelchair basketballers

Rohan Foy began as a disability support worker before turning his attention to coaching. Photo: Basketball NSW.

By his own admission, Rohan Foy had little interest in basketball before becoming involved in the wheelchair version of the sport.

But Rohan is now totally immersed as the coach of the Canberra Gunners Wheelchair team.

“I was working as a disability support worker helping a young person find a sport,” he explains.

“We tried wheelchair basketball, and now I’m passionate about the sport.”

That devotion to wheelchair basketball hit new heights last weekend with the Gunners winning the Waratah Wheelchair Division 2 League, defeating Manly Warringah 50-34 in the grand final.

It capped off an incredible campaign. The team was undefeated through the entire 12-game season.

The effort to get to this point can’t be underestimated.

Dean Gerke. Photo: Basketball NSW.

Dean Gerke. Photo: Basketball NSW.

Rohan had plenty of challenges as the team evolved from a recreational squad to a championship-winning team.

To add to his difficulties, there were only a few basketball specialist wheelchairs and a homemade trailer.

“We had four people turning up to training in 2013,” he said. “That grew to 25 on a regular basis. We now also have new equipment – a new trailer and new wheelchairs.”

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More importantly, there needed to be a total commitment to the sport from the playing group.

And that was achieved.

A good example is 41-year-old Michael Gray and his 14-year-old son Jackson. They travelled back and forth from Albury through the season in 10-hour round road trips.

Michael Gray. Photo: Basketball NSW.

Michael Gray. Photo: Basketball NSW.

And back in Albury, Jackson would hit 200 shots a day before heading to Canberra for training.

It paid off. Jackson was named the Three Point winner in the grand final, and dad Michael captained the team.

Jackson Gray. Photo: Basketball NSW.

Jackson Gray. Photo: Basketball NSW.

Then there was the performance of Jontee Brown, who had an incredible day out. He was named the Four Point winner, the 2023 MVP and the Grand Final MVP.

Jontee Brown. Photo: Basketball NSW.

Jontee Brown. Photo: Basketball NSW.

“After losing the grand final in 2022, we came together and committed to extra training sessions,” Rohan says.

“We were also looking for a high-profile player. As luck would have it, Jontee moved to Canberra and he brought with him a wealth of experience and he also took on a mentoring role.”

And credit to Rohan. As coach, he was able to mould this team into a championship-winning squad.

Rachael Gerke. Photo: Basketball NSW.

Rachael Gerke. Photo: Basketball NSW.

Forget about tactics and team line-ups – logistics alone were a huge challenge.

“We had a team of three organising logistics. We needed to organise transportation for 12 wheelchairs for playing, 12 wheelchairs for day use and accessible accommodation.”

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The demands on the coach went well beyond the responsibilities usually required for such a role.

But the effort and determination has been worth it. The experience has changed the lives, and for all involved, it will provide lasting, positive memories.

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