Shooting for the top: Roller Hawks star Luke Pople is hoping to make his first Paralymics squad. Picture: Adam McLean
Luke Pople’s basketball resume is a full one. Beyond the five National Wheelchair Basketball League titles with the Roller Hawks, Pople has played overseas and represented Australia at two world championships including winning Gold at the 2014 Worlds in South Korea.
But the one gap in his career is to play at a Paralympic Games. Pople was part of the 18-man squad that went to the final selection camp before the 2016 Rio Games but was cut at its conclusion.
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A corresponding camp for this year’s Paralympics is underway in Canberra this week with Pople one of 14 squad members to be put through their paces across eight gruelling days.
”Two or three sessions a day, and all the team’s going to be there, everyone’s come over from Europe and the States and we’re all going to smash it out for a week and at the end of it we get told if we’re going to the Paralympics or not,” says Pople.
All players were able to make it to Canberra safely with the campus at the Australian Institute of Sport to keep the team largely isolated from the outside world.
While the camp will be the last opportunity for the players to impress, it’s also the first time since 2019 they’ve all been together.
”I don’t think we’ve been together as a team for two years so it’s going to be awesome for us, everything has been disjointed, everyone has been scattered around so getting everyone together is going to be awesome.”
Since missing Rio, the 30-year-old has worked on his game and been a vital piece in the Roller Hawks three-straight titles.
”Individually I think it’s just going in with confidence and doing the best I can in this last camp to impress the coaches and everything else will take care of itself.”
”It’s very exciting and everyone is getting up for it. First Paralympics is (going to be) awesome. To be able to come home and know I’ve had my name called out and that I’ll have my ticket on the plane will be a great feeling.”
Also eyeing selection is Tristan Knowles. The returning Roller Hawk has revealed he’s not only pushing for a spot at this year’s Tokyo Paralympics but also has his sights set on Paris in 2024.
”I just feel at this point in my career I think that playing in an environment that Wollongong has is the best place for me, is the best environment for me and I think it’s the best environment for me to prepare to battle against the best players in the world,” Knowles said.
While Knowles is looking beyond Tokyo, Roller Hawks captain Brett Stibners says if he makes this year’s Paralympics, it will be his last.
Stibners won gold with the Rollers in 2008 and silver in 2012 before retiring from international competition.
Sticky’s retirement was short lived and he was back for the Rio 2016 campaign that ultimately finished out of the medals and he’s keen for one last crack.
”I’m happy with my fitness, I’m happy with how I’ve been playing, happy with how I’m shooting. I think I’ve given myself the best opportunity to make the team for Tokyo and we’ll find out in a week’s time if that comes to fruition,” Stibners said.