Coach pays tribute to Illawarra presence

Luke Pople in action for the Rollerhawks. The Horsley resident played for Australia at the world wheelchair basketball championships in South Korea. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Luke Pople in action for the Rollerhawks. The Horsley resident played for Australia at the world wheelchair basketball championships in South Korea. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

HORSLEY'S Luke Pople is still buzzing after playing in his first wheelchair basketball world championships for back-to-back winners Australia.

The 23-year-old was part of the senior team which defended its 2010 world title, defeating arch-rivals the United States 63-57 in a thrilling final in South Korea on July 14.

While Pople didn't play in the title match, he played a key role off the bench in Australia's lead-up games, including games against Turkey, Colombia, and their only loss to the US.

"It was my first world championships being a part of the senior team and one of the youngest players," he said.

"So going away with the boys and coming back with gold was pretty special. It was a dream come true."

Pople is one of three Wollongong Rollerhawks players in the Australian team - he was joined in South Korea by teammates Nick Taylor, who lives in Corrimal, and Perth-based Adam Deans. Ex-Rollerhawks player Tristan Knowles scored plenty in the final game.

"We have our combination coming from Wollongong. To have people you're familiar playing with is always a good thing.

"Me and Adam have come through the Rollers program together and to go away and represent Australia together is pretty cool."

Pople has been in the senior squad for about four years and the world championships was his first senior call-up.

The former Figtree High School student started playing wheelchair basketball at 13, came through the Illawarra development team and joined the Rollerhawks at 15.

The point guard was happy with his court-time in South Korea and said he tried to be a positive influence.

"I got a couple of baskets against Colombia and having your first basket in an international match was a good moment.

"It's definitely a few steps up from our national league. It's a lot faster, more physical. They can all shoot."

Ben Etteridge, coach of Australia and the Rollerhawks, paid tribute to the strong Illawarra presence in the team, which had been the case for many years.

"I think it's the work that's done by the Rollerhawks. I'm from Perth and having moved across here I'm blown away by the professionalism and the amount of work [Rollerhawks president] Pablo Jimenez and his committee do," he said.

"Luke was great - it was a big step up for him."

Etteridge said Australia had a tough draw and some players fell ill but they pushed through and got the job done.

"You couldn't have been prouder of the effort they put in."

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