Northern Ireland star James MacSorley is relishing the opportunity to make history as wheelchair basketball prepares to take center stage this summer.
The sport makes its Commonwealth Games debut in Birmingham and the exhilarating, fast-paced 3×3 format is set to draw big crowds to the Smithfield venue.
And having helped a Great Britain squad win gold at the 2018 World Championships, the opportunity to play a part with Team Northern Ireland is not one that has been lost on MacSorley, who plays his club basketball in Northern Spain at Bidaideak Bilbao BSR.
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He said: “I couldn’t be prouder. I was born in Belfast, I grew up in Belfast and then lived there until I was 22.
“I said when we qualified, there’s a really rich history for wheelchair basketball in Northern Ireland even though we’re quite a small place.
“There’s a great history of players who have come before us and we’re the next step in that, so I’m really proud to be a part of that and adding to that story.
“Then hopefully someone else comes in and adds on top of that and eventually, if we do something this summer, people might be like ‘do you remember those guys, when they went to the Commonwealths and did this, that and the other’.
“It’s a real privilege to be able to be a part of the Northern Ireland Basketball story and I think that’s something that we will realize with time – that no matter what happens after this, we were the first Northern Ireland team to ever make a wheelchair basketball Commonwealth Games and I think that’s really special.”
After the success of 3×3 basketball at the Olympics last summer, it has become a part of the wheelchair basketball game too, something MacSorley hopes can boost the game even further.
“It’s really exciting, especially as it’s a new format,” said the 27-year-old.
“The 3×3 is not something I’ve ever seen before, it’s something I’ve seen people playing on their feet before obviously, but it’s quite cool that it’s come over into the wheelchair game.
“The way I’m seeing it is that if it gets more visibility for kids to try wheelchair basketball for the first time I’m all for it.
“Hopefully they can start on their journey to change their lives through sport like I did, so I’m very excited to be involved in another opportunity for the sport to grow.”
This summer Team Northern Ireland will also be sending over their biggest team of para-athletes, as 11 athletes head to Birmingham in search of gold, and MacSorley believes there is much more to come.
He said: “It’s amazing, I think it’s kind of proof of concept of what I was saying about the exposure leading to the sport growing from London 2012 and the Paralympics, that’s where disability sport really took off and took a big leap forward in terms of exposure.
“It’s absolutely amazing to see and hopefully there are even more in the next one and this looks small compared to the next one.”
The opportunity to represent Team Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games this summer came after an overtime victory over near neighbors Scotland, which in MacSorley’s eyes exemplifies the heart shown by his team.
“It says a lot that we went to overtime there, which in 3×3 basketball is first to score two baskets,” he added.
“Those two baskets were scored by two young fellas, which is absolutely amazing to see.
“Nathan McCabe, he’s 19 years old and he scored the winning basket to send Northern Ireland Basketball to their first ever Commonwealth Games. That’s something that will never be taken away from him.
“It was a really special moment, a real privilege to be involved and it was a pleasure to be carried by the young lads.”
The squad’s preparation for their historical bow has been boosted by funding from The National Lottery, the importance of which is not lost on MacSorley.
“The National Lottery funding has been absolutely vital over a large part of my career,” said the Belfast-born star, one of over than 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be involved in wheelchair basketball from underage level right through to senior level, and without that funding, without people going out and buying lottery tickets, none of this happens.
“I’m very fortunate to be living my dream and playing the same sport that I fell in love with as a six-year-old, and that’s only possible because of people who go out and buy a National Lottery ticket, so thank you to people who get involved every week.”
National Lottery players raise more than £30million a week for good causes including vital funding into sport – from grassroots to elite. Find out how your numbers make amazing happen at: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved by using the hashtag: #TNLAthletes.
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