IWBF - Title contenders convene in Korea for 2014 IWBF Men's World Championships
INCHEON (IWBF Men's World Wheelchair Basketball Championship) - As the 2014 IWBF Men's World Wheelchair Basketball Championship commences on Saturday, defending champions Australia are in a good position to repeat.
In the 40-year history of the event - this will be the 11th World Championship - only the USA have won consecutive titles, three-peating twice, from 1979 to 1986 and again from 1994 to 2002.
As with the women's tournament which concluded in Toronto last weekend, there will be a larger field in this year's event, growing to 16 from 12 teams. There are seven from Europe, four each from the Americas and Asia/Oceania including host Korea, and one from Africa.
But also, as with the women, there are few teams with a realistic shot at winning it all.
As stated, Australia are the defending champions, their first and only world title. They have a pair of Paralympic golds, from 1996 and 2008. If not for the sheer force of Patrick Anderson, who lifted Canada to the top in London, the Aussies might have been the undisputed best team of the past six years.
They are bringing eight of their 12 players from London, most of whom also have that last world championship medal.
In a Basketball Australia article, coach Ben Ettridge said he believes his Australian Rollers team has the proper mix of experienced talent and rising stars to help retain the World Championship.
"When you look at the likes of Brad Ness, Justin Eveson, Shaun Norris, Tristan Knowles and Michael Hartnett - you've got a core group who have played more than 150 times for their country on the biggest stages our sport has to offer."
Some of those rising stars already have experience on the international stage, as both Jannik Blair and Bill Latham were on the team in London.
After Australia, the main contenders include 2012 bronze medalists USA and Great Britain who finished fourth in London. Then comes a trio with a chance to make the podium in Germany, Spain and Turkey.
Conspicuous by their absence is Canada who fell to sixth place in the Americas Zone qualifier, missing the trip to Korea. It is the first time that the Canadians, champions in 2006, with one silver and four bronze world medals, has not participated.
Great Britain will be there. It is a team that has always been on the cusp of the true greatness that comes with a gold medal in the World Championships or the Paralympic Games. Their best result has been two silver medals, taken in 1994 and 2002.
Technically, they did win the first event in 1973 but that was not considered an official world championship. They took bronze two years later in the true inaugural tournament.
They've made it to the final game in three Paralympics, the first two in 1960 and 1964, and the last in 1996, only to take silver. They've also won four bronze including 2004 and 2008.
"The World Championships will see how we've developed as a team over the past two years," said GB coach Haj Bhania.
"The development within ourselves and how we have improved individually as well as collectively should then stand us in good stead to challenge all the teams there."
Meanwhile, the game has been dominated by the USA, Canada, and Australia with a few aberrations. Israel has won two Paralympics and one world title. France won the World Championship, then called the Gold Cup, in 1990 and the Paralympic gold in 1984. The Netherlands were elevated to gold in 1992 after the USA were disqualified.
Perhaps no team wants this more than the Americans. Like Brazil or Germany in soccer, they understand that basketball is a global game but they also know where it came from and remember their previous success. The fact is that the Americans have not won the world championship since 2002 and the Paralympics since 1988. And they want it back.
The Americans bring only six veterans of their London 2012 team that lost to Australia in a semifinal before beating the Brits for the last podium spot. A strong half dozen it is though with Josh Turek and Steve Serio, two of their strongest performers in London, Matt Scott, who won the European club title with Galatasaray, Paul Schulte, Trevon Jenifer and Nate Hinze. Not all the new guys are rookies though. Mike Paye was on the 2008 and 2004 Paralympic teams.
They have also changed coaches, handing the reigns to Ron Lykins who coached the USA women to Paralympic gold in 2004 and currently coaches at the University of Missouri.
Of the other contenders, Turkey is the most intriguing. They have a strong domestic professional league that includes the current European club champions and which has been importing top global talent for years to both develop home grown talent and keep up with the world leaders.
They beat the USA in London pool play, played Australia close, and lost to Great Britain in the quarterfinals, on the way to finishing 7th. They are matched up in the same group with the Americans here, while Germany has been thrown in with Australia. Winning their groups is not impossible but would be very difficult.
Group play starts on Saturday morning with Algeria meeting Colombia. The groups break out as follows:
Group A: Great Britain, Mexico, Korea, Argentina
Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Iran, Japan
Group C: USA, Turkey, Algeria, Colombia
Group D: Australia, Germany, Italy, Sweden
A full schedule can be found here.
The tournament has a social media presence with a Korean language Facebook page that includes a live TV link. The Twitter handle to follow is @2014iwwbc. Be sure to check out the tournament's YouTube page here.