Edmonton hoopsters focused

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

They got a taste of it watching the Olympics on TV.

Granted, the Paralympics may not be on the same scale, but to the athletes taking part, it means just as much and is just as important.

"It's very exiting," said Edmontonian Tara Feser yesterday from Beijing.

"On the court, it's very natural, it feels very much like any other tournament. I feel pretty calm and collected when it comes to the basketball, but seeing all the other athletes in the village representing their countries, it's very exciting. It hasn't sunk in yet that I'm at the Paralympics. It probably won't until we tip off in our first game"

Feser, 28, is member of Canada's wheelchair basketball team. She arrived with her team in Beijing earlier this week and will take part in the Paralympic opening ceremonies this morning. The Canadian women's team opens the tournament Monday against the Netherlands.

Leading up to the event, it's been all business.

"We did a test competition in January here and I did most of my sightseeing then so I could concentrate on the Games this time.

"It can be very tough to keep focused, especially when you've seen all the venues that are going to be a part of this in the Olympics a couple of weeks ago. It's hard not getting caught up in seeing the Watercube or the Bird's Nest Stadium. But you have to focus on the basketball and not get caught up in the rest of the environment."

The women's team is eyeing a medal at the event. Their stiffest competition should come from the U.S., Germany and Australia.

The men's wheelchair basketball team, meanwhile, has sights set on the gold medal. The two-time defending Paralympic champions have been in China for nearly two weeks preparing for the tournament.

Local Ross Norton, 35, is a veteran of the team and is taking part in his third Games.

"It's extremely hot here, but the air quality seems to be quite good for the last three or four days," Norton said from China yesterday. "We've settled into the village, we are quite comfortable in our surroundings and the food has been treating us well so far. "

The Canadians are the top-ranked team in the world heading into the tournament. Their toughest opposition should come from the U.S., who they are expected to meet in the gold-medal game.

"We're putting a position in the back our of minds right now, we're just working on our systems as far as offence and defence go. We're kind of wrapped up in that," Norton said. "There are a lot of distractions here that we have to try and block out of our minds and deal with."

So far, as they did for the Olympics, the Chinese have embraced the Paralympics.

"We've been exposed to the volunteers and the organizing committees and some of our practices have been at local universities," Norton said.

"Everyone has treated us fantastically. They're always willing to help us. I'm hoping we get a lot of support and have sellouts for the semis and the finals."


Videos

Photos