Player Joe Bestwick finished third at the Paralympics and became a European Champion with Team GB, as well as a Champions Cup Winner and German Champion four times with his former club RSV Lahn-Dill. Since the beginning of June, the RBBL-top-scorer who currently plays for Hannover United, now has a German Passport, too. This qualifies Bestwick to play for the German National Team.
This past summer was the first in 15 years without basketball. Before he used to be busy with the British National Team between seasons. For eight weeks Hannover United were able to train in small groups, but since Bestwick had to undergo knee surgery, he’s only touched a ball again on Tuesday and had to make do with just weight training until now. “It was lovely to be able to spend so much time with my family. As my wife was very busy with work, I’ve been taking care of our little daughter – it was tough and awesome all at the same time.”
2007 – Move to Germany, top scorer of the league a year later
Bestwick was born with clubbed feet, has had the right lower leg amputated, and discovered wheelchair basketball when he was 12 years old. At the U23-European Championship he won Gold twice as well as Silver once with GB, and at age 22 he started playing for RBC Cologne 99ers, where he was top scorer in the German league for the first time in the season 2008/2009.
Back then he did not even think about the possibility of playing for the German National Team one day – even though he spoke a little bit of German: “In theory I studied German in school, but our teacher fell ill for a long time, so most of the time class was cancelled. In Cologne I hardly ever used German since the coach didn’t speak it either.” When he moved to play for RSV Lahn-Dill in 2012 he had German classes, five times a week and four hours a day. “I said from the start that I would come as often as I could, but that games and team events would always take priority.” Over the years his German has improved a lot simply by living with his family in Germany, his vocabulary is good. His German wife Dana speaks German with daughter Robyn, and he speaks English with her. “I only struggle with the grammar. It’s difficult to find time to study that, mainly because it’s no fun at all.” he says and laughs: “My German is good, but it could be better.”
To reach the B1-level for the German citizenship test it is definitely good enough. As Bestwick has been living in Germany for such a long time now, it became clear after the Brexit-vote that double citizenship made sense, to keep all options open: “This way I could live in both England and Germany, and I could travel all of Europe without a visa.” That double citizenship would also mean his eligibility to play for Germany, “that was something we only ever joked about. The decision to get German citizenship was completely separate from the sport.”
“Joe works extremely hard, always gives 100 per cent and is a meticulous athlete”
When National Coach Nic Zeltinger talked to him for the first time, the idea that Bestwick might be able to wear the Germany vest became clearer. Since the IPC are currently reviewing all players and their physical impairments in terms of their classification and eligibility for international tournaments, the former British National Player appeared on the list as a possible player – and eligible. For Zeltinger this is a positive thing in a “really dire situation”, as his players Alex Halouski and Matthias Güntner are still under review. “It goes without saying that Alex and Matthias have our full support and that we hope for a positive outcome. It would be really unfair if they wouldn’t be allowed to go to the Paralympics.” says Zeltinger, despite being happy about the possibility of working with Bestwick again. “With him we would get a player who does everything to get his team the win. He works extremely hard, always gives 100 per cent, and he is a meticulous athlete. Outside the court he is also a good person. We went through all kinds of ups and down together while I was his club coach in Wetzlar, so should he qualify for the squad at the Selection Camp, we know what we’d be getting ourselves into.”
In 2008 Bestwick won Bronze with the British National Team in Beijing and in 2013 the European title in Frankfurt. The Final in Frankfurt was also the last game he played for Team GB, after that he was only ever in the extended squad. And since that is the case, he is eligible to play for a different National Team. “My wife and I have discussed a lot if this is justifiable. I always travelled a lot with the National Team. To not be selected for London and Rio was tough. I would probably be a bit sad to look back at my career in 50 years and only have played at a Paralympics once. I didn’t plan this 12 years ago, but maybe this could be my chance to give back to this country and the German basketball-community. If it is, I want to give 100 per cent, especially in a Paralympic year.”
Bestwick points out several times, that he has been nominated for the Selection Camp, not the team. “I don’t want anyone to think I was getting straight into the team. I have to work for that, I have to play well, and it has to work on an interpersonal level.” Since moving to Hannover United, the player has developed further: “My coach Martin Kluck trusts me, which gives me confidence and has helped me a lot to grow. Before, I used to start from the bench. In Hannover I have become a better shooter and almost always play 40 minutes. I’m louder than my teammates, maybe because a former coach of the British National Team had drilled us to be as loud and aggressive as possible on court. That comes across as really hard, but always meant with good intentions.” he says almost apologetically: “Germans on the other hand are generally a lot quieter.” He got the opportunity to see the German National Team in action a lot during past big tournaments, working as a commentator, and knows all the players from the league. “The talent is there, but for some reason it hasn’t worked out with a medal yet. Maybe, at least I hope, I can help to give new a impulse with my playing style.”
Bestwick has fond memories of the Paralympics in Beijing, especially the opening game in front of 18.000 spectators against China and the group game against the US, one of the best teams in the world: “I never played a lot for GB. In preparation games we kept losing against the US by 40 or 50 points, and before the group game three of our players had gastroenteritis, so I had to play the entire game. When we were in the tunnel some of the Americans were laughing at us, because they thought they would win by 80. I was so nervous and played badly in the first half. But at half time we were only down by one, so the coach told us to just keep doing what we were doing and that he didn’t understand why I was so nervous. From then I played well, and we won. It was only a group game, but an awesome experience that did a lot for my confidence.” The Bronze-game was against the US again, Bestwick did not play in this one, but the experience and the Medal are there to stay. “I took it into schools for presentations, that’s why it looks a bit battered. But it is still on display in the living room.”
Text: Nico Feißt / DBS | Translation: Dana Bestwick | Photo: Steffie Wunderl