ERIC J. WELSH/ THE PROGRESS Ben Hagkull has flown to Germany to represent Canada in international action and will play for the country’s U-23 squad when Toronto hosts the World Wheelchair Basketball Championships in July.

Chilliwack wheelchair basketballer makes U-23 Canadian roster

Ben Hagkull will represent Canada at the 2017 World Wheelchair Basketball Championships in Toronto.

Ben Hagkull was in the Chilliwack secondary school gym after classes Monday afternoon, lobbing up shot after shot after shot — enjoying a few moments of basketball zen before his life turns into a whirlwind.

One day later the teenager was set to board an airplane and enjoy (if that’s the right word) a 12 hour transatlantic flight to Germany, and by Wednesday morning he was no doubt a bleary-eyed mess trying to cope with the nine-hour time difference between here and there.

Such is the life of a jet-setting international athlete and something he should get used to.

As a newly minted member of the Canadian U-23 national wheelchair basketball team, Hagkull is overseas for the first time. He’s on an eight-day odyssey that will see him get a taste of big-time international competition against teams from Germany and Austria.

“It’s a little scary because I haven’t been to Europe yet and it’s a bit of an unknown, but I feel I’m well prepared,” Hagkull said, looking surprisingly calm and relaxed. “I feel I’m going to do very well.”

When he returns to Chilliwack next week, Hagkull will start looking forward to an even bigger stage. The Canadian juniors will reunite in June to play in the 2017 World Wheelchair Basketball Championships in Toronto. If Hagkull performs well, the 18 year old will cement his status as a rising star.

He has made his name playing on B.C.’s senior team the last two years.

His inclusion on Canada’s U-23 squad was made official May 8, although he knew he was on the team long before then.

“I went to Toronto on the second week of spring break for a selection camp,” Hagkull said. “There were 18 of us at the camp and at the end of the week they brought each of us into a conference room with the Team Canada coaches and told us whether or not we made the team.”

Hagkull rolled into that room and cracked an ear-to-ear smile as head coach Darrell Nordell delivered the news.

“It was really stressful because I knew I had a really good chance, but I was still really nervous until they told me I’d made the team,” said Hagkull, who was one of 12 players green-lighted for final the roster. “They said my speed has improved, my shot has gotten a lot more accurate and my communication on the court is better too.

“I let out a huge smile because I was super proud.”

In recent years Hagkull has been a main man on all of his teams, one of the best and most experienced players coming up through the B.C. Wheelchair Basketball ranks. He’s just a young pup on the Canadian team, sharing the court with veterans like Liam Hickey, Ben Moronchuk and Vincent Dallaire.

Hickey and Moronchuk repped Canada at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, Brazil. Hickey and Dallaire helped Canada snare silver at the 2015 ParaPanAm Games in Toronto and were part of Canada’s last world championship entry in 2013.

But Hagkull anticipates seeing lots of playing time because of wheelchair basketball’s classification system. Players are assigned numbers based on functional mobility. Hickey and Moronchuk, for example are higher-functioning players who are both graded at 4+ where Hagkull is classified at 2.5

According to paralympic.org/wheelchair-basketball/classification, players rated at 2.0 ‘can lean forward and rotate their body to some extent, allowing them to catch the ball within a larger radius. Their wheelchairs have a higher backrest and strapping for trunk support.’

Players rated at 3.0 ‘can fully rotate and lean forward, but cannot lean to the sides. As they do not need sitting support, their wheelchair has a low backrest.’

According to wheelchairbasketballcanada.ca, ‘the total number of points on the court assigned for each of the five players may not exceed 14 points.’

That’s why Hagkull and his 2.5 classification is so valuable.

Nordell will utilize high-functioning players like Hickey and Moronchuk and support them with the Chilliwackian, knowing he can contribute to a winning team.

Hagkull can’t wait to prove the coach right.

“I didn’t know my wheelchair basketball career would lead to this point so early,” Hagkull said with a confident grin. “I definitely feel like I deserve this because I have worked really hard, and I’m just really honoured to represent Canada with such a talented group of guys.”

See wheelchairbasketball.ca/2017u23wwbc/home/ for more info.