RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Change is on the way for the Canadian men’s wheelchair basketball team following a disappointing 11th place finish in Rio.
After making the final in the last four Paralympics, Canada produced an uncharacteristic 1-5 mark, following a 70-51 win over the lowly Algerians on Wednesday.
For captain David Eng, 39, it was an emotional day as he took to the court for what might been his last time with such stars as Bo Hedges and Adam Lancia, both 36.
Tokyo seems a long ways away.
“I don’t know yet,” Eng said about potentially retiring. “That’s why during this game today, I was very emotional. I started off in the warm up, I had tears, finished the game, I had tears.
“I’m cautious that I’m getting older and four years from now is a long time, so I just wanted to enjoy it and see my friends, as I know a couple guys who might be retiring. That could have been the last time I play with them.”
Eng still views these games as a success and an important experience in passing the torch on to the team’s younger core.
“This time around it was really about reconstructing, being at rock bottom and getting back up,” said Canada’s flag bearer. “Helping the next generation was the whole purpose I think, and (we) really have a bright future and great athletes coming up.”
Head coach Steve Bialowas, who understands he may be losing several of his veteran players, praised them for making these Paralympics such a positive experience for the rookies.
“Our veterans have done a fantastic job of being big brothers and leaders to those guys,” Bialowas said. “They’ve actually embraced them and helped to build their confidence on the court.
“They were actually impressed with the way the young guys competed here for their first time ever.”
Younger members, such as Nik Goncin, 24, who was the team’s second leading scorer behind Eng, are prepared to take on a bigger role within the team, and help to lead his teammates far into the future.
“Well, six out of the 12 were first timers,” Goncin said. “I don’t want to say that anything that happened was expected, as we set expectations pretty high for ourselves.
“Obviously, we have to qualify for Worlds first (2018) and make our way there. But, I’m expecting big things in Tokyo.”