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Shooting hoops with the Wolves

20th July 2020

by Richard Jinman

Senior Creative Editor

Jim O’Brien's life has been transformed by membership of the North West Wolves Basketball Club

Jim O'Brien at a practice session for the North West Wolves Basketball Club

The last time Jim O’Brien played a match with the North West Wolves Basketball Club he felt like a winner even before he played his first shot. When the team bus came to pick him up, the 19-year-old pulled himself out of his wheelchair and onto the vehicle’s steps without assistance.

“I self-transferred for the first time,” says Jim who plays as a guard in the Derry-based team. “It was a great achievement for myself.”

Jim, who has Spina bifida, has only been with the North West Wolves for a year, but says the Thursday evening training sessions at Derry’s Foyle Arena and weekend matches, have done wonders for his physical and mental health. “I feel better about myself because I’m doing something that I like and keeping my mind focussed,” he says. “It’s a chance to meet new people and I feel happy when I’m here because I’m with people that I like and who have similar abilities and disabilities.”

And while he has yet to score in a match, he feels his court skills are improving rapidly. “In the past couple of weeks I feel like I’ve got better in terms of blocking [opponents’] chairs and making space on the court,” he says.

The North West Wolves is one of four wheelchair basketball clubs in Northern Ireland. It was started in February, 2018 with the help of National Lottery funding delivered via Disability Sport NI.

“The National Lottery funded my role,” says Disability NI’s Wheelchair Basketball Club Development Officer Danny Cooper. “The North West Wolves was the first club that I created and the money helped us buy basic equipment and hire a hall.”

Members of the North West Wolves Basketball Club take part in a training session

Since The National Lottery’s first draw took place on 19 November, 1994, more than £40 billion has been raised for good causes in the areas of arts, sport, heritage and the community.

Danny says Derry was a natural choice for a wheelchair basketball club because another more established club, the NI Knights, already offers training sessions and match play at venues in Belfast and Antrim. “The population [in Derry] was there because it’s the second biggest city,” he says. “We were aware of people being interested in the sport and knew some qualified coaches. We also have a great relationship with the Northern Health Trust.”

North West Wolves’ Trevor Lucy, 52, says the club has about 25 members and a core group of about 15 players who never miss a session. None of them had played wheelchair basketball prior to joining the club, but their skills are developing rapidly. “We’re probably better in defence than we are in attack,” he says. “We’re not getting enough baskets yet.”

The club’s players range from eight-years-old and up and members’ able-bodied friends and family members are encouraged to get into a wheelchair and join the fun at practice sessions. “We’re trying to be very inclusive and encourage people to bring their friends,” says Trevor. “It’s fun for everyone. Once you’re in that chair it levels the playing field.”

Everyone at the club is looking forward to testing their skills when a new wheelchair basketball league starts in September.

The North West Wolves were recently awarded Club of the Year at the Derry City and Strabane District Council Sport Awards and Trevor has high hopes for the future. “We want to grow the membership and get the core players their own chairs so they have a consistency in their game,” he says.

Jim O'Brien (centre) at a training session for the North West Wolves Basketball Club