Shaun Norris has played the game for so long that he needed a new challenge, and Australian head coach Craig Friday gave him just that ahead of the 2018 Wheelchair Basketball World Championships that tip off Thursday (16 August) in Hamburg, Germany.
Friday did not question the 33-year-old’s skills or knowledge of the game. Instead, rather than improving his shooting, Friday wanted Norris to work on creating his own shot. Instead of making crisper passes, he challenged Norris to see different passing options.
Friday also challenged his team captain to work with various line-up combinations.
Suddenly, the passion seemed to return in the four-time Paralympian.
‘I want to see that smile on Shaun’s face’
“Shaun is back to a (way) to where he was as a teenager,” Friday said. “I think we’ve re-energised Shaun with the way we play. We’ve taken things out of the system that he didn’t like. And being our leader now, it’s made him think about the game a different way.”
“His dedicated and application to us over the last three months has been outstanding. And we haven’t seen that in a few years now.”
It is not just Norris, but the Australian national team who have been working with the new style since Friday became the national team coach in 2017.
The change was necessary, as Norris noticed something was wrong after not making his first Paralympic podium at Rio 2016.
Australia found themselves in an unfamiliar position at the 2016 Paralympics when a 23-point loss to Great Britain knocked them out of medal contention. They lost to Brazil by one point in a battle for fifth place.
“It was a lot of emotion, to be in that position (playing for fifth) in the first place, I think the energy in the team was gone,” said Norris, who was also part of Australia’s back-to-back Worlds titles in 2014 and 2010. “In saying that, we had a lot of problems (with fundamental) within the team that we needed to sort on court and I think we’ve solved that.”
“It’s the fundamentals of wheelchair basketball,” Norris explained. “We really have tried to go back to the drawing board over the last two years and fix a lot of those problems.”
The new style also takes pressure off Norris, who has been part of the team’s winning core.
“History has shown us that … the three-headed monster has led Australia for a long time. And now we’re playing with a bit ore versatility, we’re playing with some rotations and we’re playing deep into our roster,” Friday said. “We don’t have to rely on Shaun to score 30 points a game.”
Life outside basketball
Leading up to the Games, Norris was playing professionally with club teams in Europe.
But now he is balancing training with the national team with his full-time job in information technology. The months leading up to Hamburg 2018 have been stressful, Norris admitted, trying to manage with five hours of sleep.
But he has found fresh motivation to help Australia return to the international podium.
“A new challenge,” Norris said. “There was a big change within the team, a new coaching staff, and some new ideas. And some focus on the fundamentals of wheelchair basketball. I think we really needed to go back the drawing board and it was clear to me that that’s what we were doing as a team. And that really excited me.
“And I like wheelchair basketball,” he added.
“You have these feelings at times, and once it all sort of calms you – you get the happiness back in playing basketball.”