A wait of more than two decades will come to an end this weekend when the Glasgow Rollin’ Rocks begin their 2021/22 BWB National League season in the Premier Division – the first Scottish team to play in the top-flight since the 1990s.
The Rocks’ promotion to the Premier Division was earned after an impressive 2019/20 season, topping the Division 1 North table with a near perfect record, before the league was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The team has been coached over the last few seasons by Jen Scally, but club co-founder and 1984 Wheelchair Basketball Paralympian Gary Davidson has taken over the coaching duties ahead of the new season.
Davidson has been involved with the club since 1986, founding what was then known as West of Scotland Wheelchair Sports Club with Bobby Park and Peter Moore before the club joined forces with Glasgow Rocks in 2018.
“It means a lot to have the club back in the Premier Division,” Davidson said. “This is what we have all been working towards as we wanted to ensure the players were able to get the opportunity and a taste of playing at the top level in Britain.
“When wheelchair basketball was at a decline in Scotland, we tried to get it running again and make sure players had an opportunity. We’ve had some great times including taking the players to play in the Spitfire Tournament in Canada nine times, and playing over in Texas a couple of times to give the players an international feel.
“There’s been highs and lows and, after a bit of a decline, about five years ago we wanted to do all we could to get the team back up there again and get players from across Scotland to play together and here we are now.”
Returning to the top
The Rollin’ Rocks first team will be captained by 19-year-old Ben Leitch, who joined the Rocks ahead of the 2018/19 season after beginning his wheelchair basketball career at Lothian Phoenix. The GBR Academy athlete, who represented Great Britain at the 2018 U22 European Championships, says it is a “huge honour” to captain the team as they make their return to the UK’s top division.
Speaking ahead of their opening fixture against CWBA, Leitch said: “It’s a massive weekend for the club and wheelchair basketball in Scotland so to captain the team, especially with it being quite a monumental thing for a Scottish club to get back into the Prem after such a long time, is a huge honour for me.
“Just getting back on a court playing four quarters, having referees, scorers, shot clocks will be incredible as it’s felt like such a long time since we were able to play competitively with each other so I’m looking forward to getting back on court and seeing what this team can achieve.”
The 2021/22 Premier Division season – which got underway last month – will see Glasgow clock up more than 4,000 miles as they travel to play the top teams in the UK, including a trip to the Capital to play London Titans and the South Coast to play Exeter Otters.
But the opportunity to battle once again in the UK’s top division is a challenge the club are relishing – as Davidson explains:
“Every game you play in the Premier Division either team can win and we’re going into the league ready for the challenge and teams can certainly expect us to battle; we’ve got that Celtic mentality to fight to the end,” Davidson said. “We’re a young team but a lot of them have got old heads on them and they have been playing for quite a few years. We’re all looking forward to it.”
Davidson’s thoughts are echoed by Leitch: “I think as a team we grew a lot together from the start of the last season we played to when the season ended. It was amazing to be part of the squad that got this team back in the Prem and we have come together more in terms of understanding each other and being more of a collective team.
“Everyone has invested in it and pushing themselves to get better for each other and the determination we all have as a squad is massive and that pushes us through so I think teams should expect a fight on court this season.”
Player opportunity at the the club’s core
The club’s second team will play in Division 2 North with teams also representing the club in both BWB’s Junior and Women’s Leagues, along with a team in the Scotland league.
“There’s always lots going on throughout the season,” Davidson said. “Our approach to the second team is to be a stepping-stone up to the first team and it’s up to the players in the second team to continue pushing the players named in the first-team for a place in the first-team squad.
“The Junior and Women’s Leagues are always fantastic competitions to be a part of so we’re looking forward to playing in them again this season.”
Glasgow Rollin’ Rocks has created links in Georgia with the club helping to support and develop the provision of wheelchair basketball in the country.
“One of our players was born there and, due to his medical needs, he came to Scotland for an operation and started wheelchair basketball,” Davidson said. “We went to Georgia to try and set-up wheelchair basketball. It was very successful, we trained and coached what will become the Georgian national squad, we did a couple of training sessions with some of the players and gave them tips on how to play.
“With IWBF’s help, we did a week’s training with them covering social inclusion, talking with their families about wheelchair basketball and also advice on nutrition and things like that. We’re really proud as a club that we were able to do that, and we are planning to go back out there again.”