People you meet along the way – chat with Joni Pollock

Every time I go and officiate a wheelchair basketball game now I am brought back to my memories of London 2012.  Through the build up to London I got the chance to meet lots of international players at tournaments and friendly games.  One of them was Joni Pollock who has retired from playing internationally and will start coaching in his home town of Wigan,UK.  I wanted to share with all our blog readers some questions I asked Joni.

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What was it like to compete at a home Paralympic Games?

It was great to compete in a home games.  I imagine any athlete from any sport would love that chance and I got it.  For most of my career the excitement of a tournament or games started at travel day, but this being our home games we didn’t have that.  We hoped to go to the opening ceremony to get that buzz but we didn’t and it back fired on us as a team.  The venues, the officials and the games makers were amazing but most of all the British public, they were second-to-none and the best I have ever come across in my career anywhere in the world. 

What effect do you think the Paralympic Games has had on the nation of Great Britain?

I believe post London games the bridge that has been between the Olympics and Paralympics is now more like a step than a bridge. Our great nation proved that were all athletes fighting for the spirit of GB.  It’s been noticeable in so many areas around the nation and how more people are now sports lovers and that is great. 

Who are you going to miss the most from your international basketball career?

I can’t really name an individual as there are so many I have become great friends with.  Most of all I think Simon Munn we’ve been in the GB setup together longer than the rest and we have shared blood, sweat and tears over 2 decades in the sport.   Others would be Dan Highcock Terry Bywater and most of all Abdi Jama.  He is a friend for life and a super player.  People from overseas stay in touch through the  social media world right now but I am hoping to see them all again from the coach’s role in time.  

What would you like to ask a referee or table official?

Table officials I would not ask anything, they do a great job.  I  would ask referees that changing a decision is allowed.  I would love to see how many referees have DVD footage of games at home and study the game.  We train hard and some of us study even harder to make the game easier but if the referees don’t all they then do is weaken the game.

Would you ever become a table official?

NO never!  I get angry too easily and get involved watching sport on television.  So to sit courtside and not get involved would be impossible.  Plus I tried officiating once at Stoke Mandeville but forgot to write as I ended up watching the game, haha.

What was the best piece of basketball advice you were given in your playing career?

I spoke to all the greats from the game over my time for advice.  One once told me to always take the challenge, never be the passenger.  Which worded his way was “If it’s going to be, then its up to me”  I always wanted the ball at crunch time thats how you make the name.  Plus its not good putting the ball into the hands of fear and you see that in team mates at crunch time.  The other thing was if I could train alone I would, so I could work on things without distraction.  As I was also told whatever time you spend  training that I promise you someone else in the world is doing the same to beat me!  That drove me on.

What piece of basketball advice would you would give to a young player?

Study the game, live for the game.  If you commit to it then it can take you anywhere on the planet I’ve done it for 20 years, but it is a commitment.  Why just take part to me is boring.

Now you have retired from international Wheelchair Basketball what can your fans and supporters do to help the sport of Wheelchair Basketball, especially in Great Britain?

Find a local team and become a fan its so hard in this country playing in a league were there are few fans.  Get down and follow your local team. its always free to watch and I am sure if we get more people watching and supporting then we will improve the atmosphere which will drive the players to be better.

Will Liverpool (Joni supports Liverpool) finish higher than Arsenal (I support Arsenal) in the Premier League?

Maybe and maybe not.  But if they stopped spending money on all the cleaners in the trophy room and started buying more players I’m sure they will.  On the other hand, we don’t have a manager that doesn’t buy players as though he is spending his own money, hahahahaha!

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I’m sure everyone reading this will join me in wishing Joni all the best with his coaching career and his future.  It can be hard to walk away from something you hold dear to your heart and has given you both joy and pain such as playing Basketball.  So knowing the likes of Joni are willing to give back to their sport is inspiring a generation. Joni has an event taking place on Saturday 9th February in Wigan, UK. Click here for more details.

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