HORSHAM wheelchair basketball star Jannik Blair followed up last year’s silver medal at the London Paralympics with a bronze at the under-23 wheelchair basketball world championships on Sunday.
Blair was the hero for the Australian Spinners in the bronze medal match against Great Britain at the championships in Adana, Turkey, hitting the go-ahead basket with 31 seconds remaining.
It proved to be the final score of the game and the Spinners held on for a thrilling 54-52 victory.
Australia fell behind at quarter-time, but a strong second quarter defensive effort kept Great Britain to just nine points and put the Spinners back in front.
The sides traded baskets for much of the second half, with neither able to gain a clear advantage.
Aussies Tom O’Neill-Throne, nine points and 11 assists, and Luke Pople, 19 points and seven rebounds, dominated but it was the captain Blair who stole the show with his last-minute heroics.
Despite the win, Blair said the team was disappointed not to come away with gold.
“After the extensive preparation we put into the tournament as a team over the past 12 months, we were heading there with one goal – to bring back the gold,” he said.
“Unfortunately a few things didn’t go our way and after pulling out a huge upset win over Iran in the quarter-finals, we dropped the semi-final to Sweden.
“After dealing with the loss overnight, the boys were quick to put it behind them and come out with a really strong performance against an old rival Great Britain.”
Blair was named captain of the under-23 team earlier in the year after competing at the London Paralympics as one of the youngest members of the Rollers’ open-age men’s team.
He was also a member of the Spinners at the under-23 world championships four years ago in Paris, where the team finished fourth.
Australia finished third in its pool with a 3-2 record after narrow losses to rival Sweden and host nation Turkey.
Australia upset a strong Iranian side 66-61 in the quarter-final to set up a rematch with Sweden, but the Spinners again fell to their rivals 69-58 to enter the bronze playoff with Great Britain.