On June 18th, 2020, it was publicly revealed that Joe Bestwick was in the selection process to represent Team Germany at the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games. Rollt. announced that he was one of the athletes ‘cleared’ by the IPC. The news came as a shocking but positive surprise to the majority of the wheelchair basketball community, as the Hannover United centre has previously represented GB on the international stage. Bestwick sat down with Dylan Cummings to discuss a wide range of topics including; his decision to obtain dual citizenship, what he hopes to bring to Team Germany if selected, his memories with GB and his current league dominance with Hannover.
You last played at a Paralympics in Beijing 2008, how has the game evolved over the last 12 years?
“I think that the game is a lot more flexible than it was then. People seemed to have much more fixed roles and a much more static, quarter court game then compared to the more aggressive transition game a lot of teams play now. The athleticism of the athletes has a lot to do with that I think, but also the changes in chair set up have made a big difference.”
Why did you decide to get dual citizenship in Germany?
“It was a family decision and a political one to be honest, nothing to do with basketball. Once it became clear that Brexit was going to happen and I would now be a non-European here in Germany, with all the complications such as work permits and visas that that would entail, my wife and I started looking at options. What made the most sense was applying for dual citizenship of Great Britain and Germany. This meant I would have no problem living or working in either country and travel would be much simpler.”
What made you want to potentially represent Germany in Tokyo?
“As I said, it wasn’t something I really had even thought about initially. I had joked about it a couple times with the guys here but that was as far as it had gone. Then Nicolai Zeltinger approached me at the Cup Final Four and said he had read a newspaper interview the club and I had shared online about my citizenship and asked if I would potentially be interested in trying out for Tokyo. I obviously talked to my family about it first, as we had all assumed that when things with GB didn’t work out, that that was the end of me being away all summer and having more family time finally. But they were of course as completely supportive as they have been about everything else and told me that another Paralympics was too big an opportunity to miss out on. They knew how not being selected for London or Rio was something that was tough for me, and that if I was going to get another chance to compete at that level then I should 100% take it. On top of all that, I’ve lived in Germany most of my adult life, it’s my home, it’s given me incredible opportunities, some really great friends, and given me my wife and daughter, it’s a country I’d be really proud to have a chance to represent.”
If selected, what do you think you will bring to Team Germany?
“I think that’s tricky to say exactly. I think that’s maybe better answered by Nic. What I can say is that hopefully I can help fit into whatever role they need from me. But also, if I’m selected then most of the guys know how I am and how I play as I’ve been here long enough. I know I’m pretty challenging to play alongside at times and that I demand a lot from the people around me, but so long as I can do that in a constructive way – even if that sometimes means being pretty direct and honest – then hopefully some guys will benefit from that. I think most of them know that how I can be on court and how I am off court are pretty different at times, so hopefully that directness won’t be an issue!”
If selected, how do you intend to fit into the team?
“I mean, I don’t assume that I’m going to be selected yet, I need to earn that right first. After that, if I make it further, it will be a balance. On the one hand I don’t want to go in all guns blazing and act like I’ve been there forever, I’ll still be the new guy with a lot to learn about the group. On the other hand, my experience and aggression and coming from a different basketball background is something that could maybe help the team, so it wouldn’t make sense to hold back completely for fear of stepping on someone’s toes either. I guess it’ll just be a case of trial and error and see what works best for everyone.”
If selected, what do you hope to achieve with the team?
“I think that to be honest, with the classification issues around the world right now I doubt many countries will be able to say exactly what their goals are for Tokyo and beyond. Personally, I do feel like the German team have had enough talent to have won a medal at the World level over the last few years, but for whatever reason it’s not worked out as they would have hoped. In my opinion, I think that we absolutely have the talent to win a medal in Tokyo, whether I’m selected or not. Time will tell if that’s realistic or not though.”
What do you make of the IPC classification situation?
“I don’t know enough about the history of it all to know why it’s gotten to this point, but I think it’s pretty disappointing that athletes who have trained for so many years and have sacrificed so much are losing all of that through absolutely no fault of their own. I love how inclusive our sport is, I think that’s a huge part of its appeal, and it would be real shame to lose that. If the IPC insist on sticking to this line and more people are classed out, then my personal opinion is that IWBF should reposition wheelchair basketball as an inclusive sport rather than a disability sport. For me, this would mean opening up Europeans and Worlds, as well as all levels of club basketball to able-bodied athletes as well, either as 4.5s or have a 5.0 classification, the details aren’t that important right now. I appreciate this would create complications with players then not being eligible for a Paralympic Games that they potentially helped their teams qualify for, but I feel that is a better compromise than losing athletes from the sport altogether, and therefore lowering the overall standard of the game.”
Is there any part of you that feels odd about potentially representing another national team?
“It’s definitely something I thought about when I was first asked, but I pretty quickly decided that it’s not at all an issue for me. I learned a lot playing for GB, I had some great experiences that I’m very thankful for, but I also had a lot of negative ones and don’t feel I was ever really given a fair shot, for whatever reason. Germany as a country, as I said, has given me a lot over the last few years, but the league here has also given me some amazing opportunities and I am really grateful that. If I’m selected, I’ll have the chance to give something back to the country and the association here, not to mention the chance to play alongside so many of the guys I’ve already had the good fortune to play alongside at Lahn-Dill and Hannover, as well as guys I’ve competed against for so many years. My biggest worry was how the guys would feel about me being a part of the team as they have a really great chemistry. So far though I’ve heard nothing but positive things from the people I’ve spoken to so I’m sure that’s not going to be an issue at all! I’m sure there are people out there who will disagree with my decision, and I can understand that, but I do think it’s a pretty personal decision and one I’m proud to have taken.”
What are some of your fondest memories whilst playing for GB?
“Mainly just spending time with the guys to be honest. Same as in any job, they weren’t all friends necessarily, but a lot were, and the best bits were definitely hanging out, just drinking tea and chatting s**t with those guys in our rooms when we were at camps. They were some really funny times. On the court, the atmosphere at the 2013 European Championships was really special, just a good group who were all really accepting of their roles and willing to work together however necessary to achieve our goals. Beijing in 2008 was pretty special too of course, being it the opening game versus China in front of 18,000 Chinese fans (and a few drunk British ones), or playing almost 40 minutes versus the USA in a group game, or the feeling when the buzzer sounded and we had won a bronze medal with my family there supporting me.”
Last season you were the top scorer in the RBBL, can you summarise how you have taken your game to the next level since playing for Hannover United?
“I think the trust and the responsibility that I’ve been given by the whole club here has played a huge factor. Knowing that they have faith in me and what I can bring on and off court has really helped me to become more consistent. It’s also helped me change slightly to fit the needs of the team. In Cologne, for example, I had an inside/outside game, whereas with GB, and to a lesser extent Lahn-Dill, I was more of a traditional post player. Here in my first season we needed more scoring from outside, and people were jumping me more than I had been before, which forced me to learn how to work more behind the screen and in a two-man game. When teams then started bringing even more pressure to our side, it forced me to try and learn to play with my head up more, to have better vision and find my open teammate. There are still so many things that I’m learning here and about this kind of role, I can’t wait to see what kind of changes we as a club and I personally can make next season.”
How would you describe you style of play?
“As I said, I think it’s changed a little over the years. I was primarily a mismatch shooter for a long time as that was the role GB and Lahn-Dill needed from me with so many other great outside shooters like Terry or Gaz in the forward spots at GB, and Mikey, Steve and Tommy at Lahn-Dill. At Hannover though I’ve developed a much more all-round game, offensively at least, although I think there’s still a long way to go to be where I want to be.”
Has anyone specifically influenced you to play the way you do?
“I’ve been lucky to play with a lot of really great guys over the years who have all had an influence in one way or another, be it how Gaz Choudhry uses space behind the screen, or how Terry Bywater or Simon Munn hunt out guys to score over, or how Mikey Paye drives when he’s been jumped to create space for the guy rolling for him. Another guy who was really awesome to play alongside was Piotr Luszynski. He wasn’t the fastest or most agile, but he could always find space and create a good shot for himself, so watching and chatting to him was really eye opening.”
What do you make of Hannover’s newest signing, Matthias Güntner?
“I think Matthias will be great for us. He’s a really good guy with a great work ethic, he’s super young and has so much potential. I think that Hannover are a great fit for him as he’ll be playing with plenty of his national team teammates every day, he’ll be coached by his national team assistant coach, and he’ll be competing with myself and Christoph for minutes, so we’ll all be helping each other stay sharp. I think he will help give us more depth, more aggression in transition, and obviously another big body in and around the key on offence and defence is always a good thing!”
What do you hope to achieve with Hannover next season?
“That’s again a tricky one, as we’ve no idea what other teams are going to look like or how COVID is going to affected teams and the season generally. Personally, I think we should be aiming to at least maintain our top three status, and from there see what we can do in games against Lahn-Dill and the Bulls. They are obviously the stick that most clubs around Europe, never mind just Germany, measure themselves against, so if we can get to a stage where we feel we can take games off those two teams then we are definitely progressing. On top of that, I hope that we have the chance to be in some kind of European competition this year, as we were due to play our first ever qualifying round last year until COVID cut the season short.”
How have you been coping with lockdown?
“Personally, I’m doing okay, but I’m in the fortunate position where I have an amazing family who keep me pretty busy and a nice apartment with a garden, so there’s definitely not been much time to get bored! I really miss the competitive side of basketball, I’ve noticed that’s something I really need, and of course I’ve missed being able to spend time back in England with my friends and family, it’s been really tough being away from them, especially with how quickly Robyn is growing up.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“I can’t think of a particular phrase or anything quotable, but my family always encouraged me to keep going and keep working, regardless of the knock backs along the way. There have been a fair few knock backs too, but in hindsight all of these things have made me stronger, have improved my work ethic, have made me more driven to prove something, so I guess that’s probably the advice that has helped me the most over the years.”
What does it mean to you to make your family proud?
“I mean I guess everyone says the same thing, of course it’s amazing. It means the world to me that they have supported me for so many years, so many missed birthdays, so long between visits, all the challenges trying to book our wedding in between basketball, dealing with my moods when things haven’t worked out. Without the support they have given me it would have been impossible to have achieved any of the things I’ve managed so far.”
If you could do a training session with three other players from around the world who you’ve never trained with before, who would you choose and why?
“I wanted Jake Williams to join Lahn-Dill when he left Hamburg as I loved the idea of training alongside and against his intensity, so he’d be one. Patrick Anderson is the boringly obvious answer too of course. I also really enjoyed battling against Andre Bienek right from when we were both GB and Germany juniors, and then with Lahn-Dill and Hannover, and I have always thought it would be fun to train with him one day and see what that’s like every day. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to find that out next summer!”
Finish this sentence. Joe Bestwick will help bring success to Team Germany because…
“…any new player you bring into a group can help you learn, develop or challenge you in a different way. Hopefully the challenge that I bring to the Team Germany squad will be no different.”
Thanks for your time mate!
Rollt. would like to thank Joe Bestwick for the interview.
Joe Bestwick Profile
Date of Birth: 01/12/1984 (aged 35)
Hometown: Leicester, Leicestershire
Started playing: 1996
International Tournament debut: 2006 World Championships – Amsterdam, Netherlands (GB)
Became eligible to represent Germany in: 2017
Disability: Clubbed Foot and Single-leg below the knee amputee
Current Club: Hannover United, GER (2017-Present)
- Jaguars, GBR (1996-04)
- Aces, GBR (2004-07)
- Köln 99ers, GER (2007-09)
- Queensland Spinning Bullets, AUS (2009)
- RGK Sporting Club Wolverhampton Rhinos, GBR (2009-12)
- RSV Lahn-Dill, GER (2012-17)
- 2x Gold and 1x Silver at 3 U23 European Championships (GB)
- 2006 World Championships – Amsterdam, Netherlands – 4th (GB)
- 2007 European Championships – Wetzlar, Germany – Silver (GB)
- 2008 Paralympic Games – Beijing, China – Bronze (GB)
- 2008/09 Season – RBBL Top Scorer (Köln 99ers)
- 2009 European Championships – Adana, Turkey – Bronze (GB)
- 2013 European Championships – Frankfurt, Germany – Gold (GB)
- 4x RBBL Playoff Champion
- 4x DRS Pokal Cup Champion
- 2x DRS Pokal Cup Runner Up
- 1x IWBF Europe Champions Cup Winner
- 2019/20 Season – RBBL Top Scorer (Hannover United)
Interview: Dylan Cummings | Photo: Steffie Wunderl