Joey Johnson, a well-known player in the German league, retired from his active wheelchair basketball career in 2012. You want to know what he has been doing since then? No problem, here’s the interview with Joey about his career as an assistant coach and the upcoming world championship in Hamburg.
Joey, after your career as an active wheelchair basketball player you started as an assistant coach for the British Wheelchair Basketball Team. Did you coach any other teams before? What was the crucial factor for you to start this job for the GBWBA?
After I retired from wheelchair basketball in 2012 I moved back to Canada and worked in sales for almost 4 years. It was late in 2015 that GB reached out to me. They were in need of an assistant coach and I was looking at getting back involved with basketball again, so it was a good fit and perfect timing.
I had coached teams before, but it was usually as a player coach or a player assistant coach. This was the first time having to sit on the side lines and watching the game. It is a different perspective and comes with a different set of challenges.
You stopped co-coaching the team GB in September 2017. What have you been doing since then?
I stopped with GB in September because I was literally commuting from Canada once a month to work with the team. They were moving to a more centralized program where they have most of their athletes in one location. They had asked if I would like to relocate the Sheffield to coach full-time with them. But with my family, kids in school, my wife has a career, timing just wasn’t right.
So, after GB I took a couple of months off and then the Canadian team came calling and asked me if I would like to help out with their program. So I am currently the Assistant Coach with the Canadian men’s team.
You played at five Paralympic Games and four World Championships. What was the most special moment at these tournaments or during this time?
This is a tough question. I had a very long and successful career so picking out one moment is tough. My first games in 1996 Atlanta were special because they were my first and you can never have another first. 2000 in Sydney was great because that was our first Gold medal. We were a young team and we knew that we could be for a long time. 2006 in Amsterdam was our only World Championship, so that is also very special. And then I would have to say London is right up there as well. My last games, my last Gold, and the Games themselves were so well run. Great crowds, the effort to break down barriers and educate the public was phenomenal.
Did you quit playing basketball completely or are you still playing for fun or for fitness? Do you think a come-back on to the court is possible?
I have quit playing completely. It wasn’t intentional at first, but I don’t own a sportschair anymore. In 2013 I was inducted into the Manitoba Basketball Hall of Fame and I donated one of my chairs to them. And then a couple of years ago I was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, and I donated my other chair to them.
I have not sat in a chair to play since 2013. But someday I may get back out there for some fun.
You played several years for RSV Lahn-Dill in Germany. Do you still follow up on the German League? What do you think about the development of the league?
I still follow the league. I think it is one of the best leagues in the world and I still have lots of friends over there that are still playing. I think that it is great that more teams have followed Lahn-Dill’s lead and are bringing in more professional players. The more competitive the league is the better the players will get and the more exciting basketball we get to watch.
The World Championship will be in Hamburg, Germany this year. What do you think will be the best three women and men teams? What will be possible for both Canadian and German teams in your opinion?
Another tough question. It seems that for both the men and women that more and more teams are getting better. For the women you have to like the Dutch. The Germans played amazing at the last European Championships with a very young team. You can never count out the Americans and I will always be partial to Canada.
For the men I think that the World is as deep as it’s ever been. The Americans would have to be the favourites coming off of the Gold in Rio. Turkey is a good team coming off of their first European Championship. And then you have a lot of others like Australia, Japan, GB, Spain. Very tough to call.
I think Germany has a good team. They have one of the best big guys in the game right now in Halouski. And also one of the best guards with Boehme. I think they will do well at the Worlds, especially because they are playing at home. I think they would be disappointed if they don’t finish top 5. And once you get to the quarter finals, all it takes is a 3 game win streak.
And for Canada, we are in a bit of a transition time. We still have some good veteran presence with Bo Hedges and David Eng, but we will also have a very young team with a lot of young guys. But with Patrick Anderson coming back to play, anything is possible.
One last question: you already told us that you are the new assistant coach for the Canadian men’s team. Are you going to be in Germany with your team?
I will be there. I am looking forward to it and can’t wait to catch up with all my German friends! Thanks.
Joey, thank you for your time and good luck for the Worlds!
Interview: Annika Aul | Photo: Armin Diekmann