Bo Kramer has only just emerged from her competition wheelchair after the game against France (97-35 win) or there is a girl who wants to make a selfie with Kramer. From her wheelchair, it sounds softly that she also plays basketball, but still misses some peers. Kramer, after the two have had their picture taken, speaks encouraging words. “You know, maybe after this week here more kids with disabilities will play wheelchair basketball.”
The little fan beams. And asks her parents to come to Rotterdam again this week. That chance is definitely there. The Dutch will play as many pool games in five days. And only then will the final rounds follow. Saturday morning, at 10 a.m., the next confrontation is already scheduled, against Germany. “That is a very important one”, knows national coach Gertjan van der Linden. He saw his team, the Olympic champion of Tokyo, start sloppily against France. “We initially suffered unnecessary ball loss, missed offensive rebounds and a few layups.” Nevertheless, the difference with France was significant. Spearheaded by Bo Kramer, they were well away before halftime: 45-13. Van der Linden: “After that difficult start we picked it up well, I am satisfied how we did in front of our own crowd.”
After 40 minutes the final signal sounds at 97-35. Mariska Beijer scores 26 points, Bo Kramer is top scorer with 29 points. The young Kramer (24) leads the way in attack, for large parts of the game she is both the guard and the finisher. And defensively, she verbally directs things. “I’m glad we’ve really started now. When you are here for a few days and see sports everywhere, you want to get going yourself. That we would win today, we knew in advance. France is not our strongest opponent. The nice thing about that is that immediately everyone was able to make minutes, everyone got her chance.”
Kramer enjoys that the stands are already quite full on the opening day of the wheelchair basketball tournament and that many more viewers are expected over the weekend. “That’s also important for the development of the sport. As I just said to that girl: surely the biggest benefit of a tournament like this is that you can inspire the youth. They can now see us on television as well as in real life.”
Kramer herself is among the young crop, but several of her teammates are approaching 40 or already going over. So recruitment is definitely welcome. “I sometimes jokingly say: it’s a shame we have such a good healthcare system in the Netherlands. That’s why not so many young people end up in wheelchairs. So the flush is thin.” To enthuse others, Kramer goes ‘on tour’ whenever she can. “We give a lot of clinics in schools and in rehabilitation centers.” Particularly in institutions for people with spinal cord injuries, for example, Kramer can encourage others to exercise again. Fanatical athletes who ended up in a wheelchair after an accident often turn out to be talented once they get over the threshold to start moving again despite their limitations. Also in basketball.
Gertjan van der Linden can enjoy seeing players like Bo Kramer interacting with young basketball fans. “They are all, also thanks to that Olympic title of course, becoming heroes. That’s fun for them, but also important for the sport. The more they are on television, the more often they come to the forefront at a tournament like this, the more kids are going to see them as idols. That’s what you need, that’s how you get recruitment again.”
He and his team are firmly planning on customer retention next week. Van der Linden: “We are tournament favorites. And we’re not running away from that.”
Dutch Wheelchair Basketball men
The Dutch men also won their first game, 70-37 over Latvia. At halftime the difference had already been made: 31-14. Mendel op den Orth had 17 points at halftime. National coach Cees van Rootselaar gave him rest in the second half.
After all, Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m. the confrontation with Spain is already on the schedule. “We play seven games in seven days, which is solid schedule. So any time you can give people some rest, I have to do that. Mendel is very important to our team. He was the best player of the tournament at both the last World Cup and the last European Championship. But fortunately we have a wide team, I can also switch.”
Van Rootselaar, like Van der Linden, was happy that the tournament really started on Friday. “On the other hand, we only had our World Cup, in Dubai, two months ago, so it’s also not like we haven’t played important matches for a very long time. Of course, it’s especially nice to play here now in front of your own crowd. My daughter was there, my mother too. And it was also nicely full in the stands.”