Basketball Australia have recently announced the top 25 athletes that have made the first cut in the Aussie Rollers selection process for Tokyo 2021. These athletes will continue to fight for a place in the final 12 over the next year. In the press release, three-time Paralympic medallist, Shaun Norris was named as the captain of the squad. He sat down with Rollt.’s Dylan Cummings to discuss the Rollers’ future as well as elaborating on the mix of young talent and seasoned veterans within the new squad.
How has the style of play evolved within the Aussie Rollers squad over the years?
“Every team has a unique style, which changes over the years with new personnel. It’s no secret from 2004 to 2014 we ran more of a power combination with big 4.5’s but now we are running more mid-pointer line-ups like most of the world. One constant has been our 4.0 combination, so we get some different looks on the floor.”
What do you think the Rollers need to do to replicate the success they had at Beijing 2008?
“Well it takes a special group of players and an endless amount of hard work to get gold at any international level. I don’t think it’s any secret that we just need to improve ourselves every day in every aspect possible.”
When you first came into the national team you had guidance from veterans like Troy Sachs, Brad Ness and Justin Eveson, how have you adapted into the veteran role in recent years with the new squad?
“It’s a learning curve, we are all different people. It is important to be yourself and disseminate information in your own style. Experience and understanding comes with time and focus, so it’s just as important to give that to the next generation. You can’t put a specific value on guidance, so just pass it on.”
How do you feel being selected as captain of this current squad?
“It’s a great honour. I am flattered that my peers want me to be captain, although maybe it’s just a fancy name for someone who is part of a team. So not much changes, it is important to focus on the goals we want to achieve and put the work in every day to make it happen.”
What do you make of the other 24 athletes that made the first cut for Tokyo 2021?
“It is a great opportunity for some of the players on the fringe to show the coaching staff what they can give to the team and see if they can make the future of the Australian team.”
There is a mix of young talent and seasoned veterans in the squad now, what have Australia done as a nation to develop the future in recent years?
“It’s important to show clear pathways for players to develop from junior ranks or local competitions to the international level and to give opportunities to young players when they show potential. Wheelchair basketball is much more than just a professional sport. For some it is just a social outlet or a way to get some exercise, for others it is a challenge to try and be the best in the world. Everyone can do their part with invested interest and guidance.”
Some of the aforementioned young talent play professionally in Europe, how do you think this further develops their game?
“To be able to focus solely on wheelchair basketball and get paid for it is the biggest advantage. In many countries like Australia, players have to pay to play for their club teams so you have to work or find people willing to support you through the journey and train when you can.”
Do you have any aspirations to play in Europe again?
“I think about it sometimes, the time I spent in Europe was an amazing experience on and off the court and I met a lot of amazing people along the way, but I have a life here in Australia with work commitments to set up a life after basketball. We all get old and retire at some point, so it’s important that we have a good life balance and work towards what we want to do after basketball.”
How will the Rollers continue to prepare for Tokyo once lockdown is over?
“Firstly, it will be good to come together as a team, as I am sure for everyone right now, getting some quality games and team sessions done is impossible. At the end of the day, we all want to play basketball and not just train for basketball. However, right now safety is number one priority for everyone.”
How have you found lockdown?
“It has been challenging in many aspects. Work, training, and general social interactions have been limited but safety comes first. We are starting to see some sports resume now so it’s going to be interesting to see how it evolves over the next few months and see if a sustainable model can be made for us all to return to some normality.”
Has anyone specifically influenced you to play the way you do?
“I would say the players I grew up with and was lucky enough to train with every day, we pushed each other and demanded more from each other every day. However, I remember being told early in my career that I would be the next Sandy Blythe. I analysed hours of video of him playing. It took me a while, but I realised that I could never do what he did, I just had to be myself and find my own way. One player that did inspire me was USA’s Paul Shulte, I will never forget seeing him for the first time in Roosevelt 2001, he was scary good.”
What piece of advice has stuck with you throughout your career?
“There is no substitute for hard work.”
You made your Paralympic debut in 2004, how much longer do you see yourself competing at the highest level?
“If Tokyo happens, it will most likely be the last Paralympics for me.”
Thanks for your time mate!
Rollt. would like to thank Shaun Norris for the interview!
Shaun Norris Profile:
Date of Birth: 02/04/1985 (aged 35)
Hometown: Perth, Western Australia
Started playing: 1995
Australia senior debut: 2001 Asia Oceania Championships
Disability: Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury
Current Club: Perth Wheelcats, AUS (2000-Present)
• Western Australia Juniors, AUS (1995-00)
• Dream Team Taranto, ITA (2006-07)
• CD Ilunion, ESP (2008-09)
• 2004 Paralympic Games – Athens, Greece – Silver (AUS)
• 2006 World Championships – Amsterdam, Netherlands – Bronze (AUS)
• 2008 Paralympic Games – Beijing, China – Gold (AUS)
• 2010 World Championships – Birmingham, GB – Gold (AUS)
• 2012 Paralympic Games – London, GB – Silver (AUS)
• 2014 Men’s World Championships – Incheon, South Korea – Gold (AUS)
• 2016 Paralympic Games – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – 6th (AUS)
• 2018 World Championships – Hamburg, Germany – Bronze (AUS)
Interview: Dylan Cummings | Photo: Uli Gasper