VICTORIA’S basketball prowess extends right throughout our diverse and flourishing sporting community.
We’re lucky to have champions aplenty in this state and within the official squad for the Australian under-23 wheelchair basketball team, which contains some of the brightest upcoming talent across the nation. Australia travelled to Thailand, competing against other nations to qualify for the Under-23 World Championships.
Two members from the squad; Brian Carminati and Jeremy Tyndall both hail from the Kilsyth Cobras, which competes in the National Wheelchair Basketball League (NWBL). The Cobras boasted a 14-3 record in the 2016 NWBL season and clinched the National Championship, thanks to impressive campaigns from Carminati and Tyndall.
For both men, the entry into wheelchair basketball was an unexpected one with a common denominator – a current Australian wheelchair basketballer.
“Life’s funny,” Carminati said. “I moved doctors for my prosthesis and by chance on the day I went in for an appointment, I ran into Billy Ferguson, who is the current captain of the Victorian national league team.
“We met and had a chat, which is when he introduced me to wheelchair basketball – he introduced me to Campbell Message.
“He helped me get started in the local comp that was running at Knox Basketball Stadium. For my whole life, I was unaware of wheelchair basketball let alone the weekly games that were only a ten minute drive away!”
— Kilsyth Basketball (@KilsythCobras) November 14, 2016
Tyndall said that passion for the sport got him hooked.
“While I was in rehab one of the guys that worked at the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre spotted me and asked if I wanted to shoot around one day… that guy was Campbell Message,” Tyndall said. “We kept in touch, and when we teed up for a session it was the most enjoyment I’d experienced for some time.
“About six months out of rehab I purchased my own basketball chair and it’s been a great ride ever since.”
As both men honed their skills and improved, the national stage beckoned.
The NWBL is Australia’s premier men’s wheelchair basketball league and is comprised of six teams and as Carminati and Tyndall progressed through the different competitions and grades, it became apparent that they were destined for bigger things.
Yet, such is the case for many youngsters, the transition into the NWBL was an eye-opener.
“The first season with Kilsyth was insane,” Carminati recalls. “The league was on another level all together when it came to professionalism and competitiveness.
“Player skill was yet another notch up, everything was so much faster.
“I’d never been a sporting person growing up so I really was taken aback at how prepared and managed the competition was compared to the local stuff.
“Nothing really prepares you until you make the leap – it’s the national wheelchair competition for a reason.”
Tyndall agrees with his teammate’s take on the league.
“The NWBL is a great league to be playing in, no doubt, but the league is very tight and there’s not a lot separating most teams,” Tyndall said.
“You can’t afford to take games off, if you do you will be left behind.
“In saying that the environment is really good, I’m very lucky to be involved with the Cobras.
“They are a quality organisation, and because of that I get to train with some of the best players in Australia – even the world.
“All the guys in and around the Cobras are quality.
“There is a great sense of comradery and togetherness. I am very happy to be a part of the team. Shane Furness has been a great coach and a positive influence in my life.”
Furness was also handsomely rewarded for the Cobras 2016 season, and was appointed as an Assistant Coach on the Under-23 squad heading to Thailand for the World Championship qualifiers.
He shared his players’ musings on the NWBL, and remains modest in spite of the praise being directed his way.
“Being involved in coaching for around two decades, making the initial shift into wheelchair basketball was actually quite daunting,” Furness said. “I was taking some time away from the game when a friend of mine, Leigh Gooding, (the program manager for the Australian wheelchair basketball teams at the time) asked if I would like to come along to a couple of sessions for the Melbourne based Australian wheelchair members down at MSAC.
“As you may imagine, my first response was ‘I don’t know anything about wheelchair basketball’.
“Leigh convinced me I’d be fine so I headed down. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to understand what players went through or relate to them.
“The turning point for me was after the first few sessions, I was pulled aside and was told that – we don’t refer to wheelchair basketballers as disabled athletes, but rather athletes with a disability. We treat them no differently.
“This really hit home for me as initially I didn’t know how to treat these players. I didn’t understand disabilities. Once I realised that, it was no different to coaching in able bodied elite programs.”
Furness has been blown away by the progress of the NWBL and believes the league can hold its own against the SEABL and BIG V competitions. When asked about his vision for Kilsyth moving forward, he emphasised the importance of continuing to build on the strong work the organisation has put together over the past 18 months.
As for the Kilsyth duo; their ambition has never been greater. Both men have set their sights on the national team, and are looking forward to giving back to the community where they can.
“Making the Rollers is definitely the dream for both of us,” Carminati said. “Taking part in the Paralympics and claiming gold is something we’re really shooting for.
“I also hope to be an inspiration to other kids who are just starting. It wasn’t long ago that I was overweight and lived a sedentary lifestyle with no sporting background.”
After an impressive campaign in Thailand, the under-23 team made the grade and will head to Canada in June for the world championships.