Patrick Anderson embracing the comeback in men's wheelchair basketball

For over a decade, the Canadian men’s senior wheelchair basketball team was virtually unbeatable. Back in those days, Patrick Anderson anchored the squad to three Paralympic gold medals in four Games. After a break from the game, the veteran has returned to lead a new squad that is looking for a new identity as it strives toward qualifying for Tokyo 2020.

Canadian star shows he's still elite in friendly win vs. Netherlands

Patrick Anderson (12) remains the backbone of Canada's men's senior wheelchair team as they prepare for the World Championship in Germany in August. (Troy Curtis/Wheelchair Basketball Canada)

For over a decade, the Canadian men's senior wheelchair basketball team was virtually unbeatable.

Back in those days, Patrick Anderson was one of the young guys who was crucial to the team's success.

Today, he's a veteran on a squad that's still struggling to find its identity. It's a mix of youngsters and vets, with five players born in 1996 or later cracking the roster this season.

"We have some young guys that we lean on quite heavily now who are really strong players, but have potential to be world beaters," he said just minutes after an encouraging 55-42 against the Netherlands in a friendly match at Toronto's Pan Am Sports Centre on Thursday.

"We also have some old guys who are in the twilight of their career. Who knows what the future will hold," he said after the victory.

Born in Edmonton, Alta. and raised in Fergus, Ont., Anderson has been the anchor of the national team since he joined in 1997, leading the squad to three Paralympic gold medals in four Games.

The only blemish on an otherwise perfect record was a silver won in Beijing in 2008.

It was a dominating run, but recent years have not been as kind for the Canadians.

An abysmal 0-5 record in Rio in 2016 saw the men fail to reach the podium for the first time since 1996.

Absent from that team was Anderson, who took a break from the game after the 2008 Games, to pursue another passion—music. He moved to New York shortly after the Paralympics, and along with his wife Anna, created the band The Lay Awakes.

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After a hiatus, veteran player Patrick Anderson is back on Team Canada with sights set on Tokyo 2020. 1:08

Over the past decade, Anderson has made music with his wife, while also extending his family.

"We formed a band, released a few albums, and released a few kids in the intervening years," he laughed.

Gold medal contenders?

Today, Anderson returns as a veteran on a squad that's not only trying to figure out if it can compete for a gold medal, it's searching for an identity, according to head coach Matteo Feriani.

"It's not the same team this year, it's a lot different with new players and old players, so we still need to find ourselves for Tokyo 2020," Feriani said after the game. "We need more repetitions, more games, more experiences."

Matteo Feriani has coached the men's national team since early 2017. (Twitter/@CanBball)

Along with more experience, consistency was stressed by the head coach.

"This is a team that the more we get consistent in our game, the more damage we can cause," Feriani said.

"We need to be more consistent. Wheelchair basketball can be very physical. We are smart, we just need to use our physicality. If [we do that], we can maybe push for gold."

Turning back the clock

Anderson's glory days on the court aren't behind him just yet.

The 38-year-old was still the best player on the court in Canada's win over the Dutch.

He's a turnover machine who's great in the paint at both ends, helped by his six-foot-four frame.

"It's nice to be tall when the shots aren't falling," he said with a smile. "I got a Plan B."

Anderson put on the show for the large crowd that came to cheer on the team, including an around-the-back pass that had the Canadian supporters buzzing.

"When we go out there and play, it might be the only time someone has seen a wheelchair basketball game, so we want to put on a good show," Anderson said.

"I like winning, but I like the show as well, and I want them to walk away thinking, 'that's a fun sport to watch.'"

Still the greatest?

For most of his career, Anderson has been called the greatest wheelchair basketball player in the world. When asked about the title, he didn't hesitate.

"That's a fact. It's not fake news, it's real news."

Then, he burst out laughing.

"I don't like the expiry date on that label, best player or whatever. I don't know when they're going to update the Wikipedia page on that one," he grinned.

But even at age 38, he's still grateful for the challenge.

Anderson is encouraged by professional athletes who have remained at the top of their game late into their careers. (Troy Curtis/Wheelchair Basketball Canada)

Anderson will be 41 by the time competition starts in Tokyo. He knows his days of wheelchair basketball are numbered. But if other pro athletes who have continued dominating their sports at this age are any indication, he'll be just fine.

"[41] sounds like a good time to retire, but I'm inspired by Tom Brady and Roger Federer and these guys who are redefining what an aging athlete can do. Maybe I can be one of those guys in wheelchair basketball."

He's not the only one who thinks so. In May, he was named the 2018 Wheelchair Basketball Canada Male Athlete of the Year.

"I was gratified to win that award because I didn't necessarily know how I was going come back at age 37. I've tried to work hard the last couple years to get back what I can, and to compensate for what I've lost," he explained.

"When I walk into that gym, people are always going to be looking at me, even if it's just 20 people. They're going to be expecting me to be Pat Anderson and do Pat Anderson things. Things I either actually can do, or that they've heard about. I think about that when I'm in the gym, or when I'm training, to have some expectations to live up to.

"I don't feel like I'm hamstrung by those expectations. I'm motivated."

The next challenge for Anderson and his team is preparing for the World Championship in Hamburg, Germany, in August.


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