Wheely big moment for basketballer Bill
By GREG WHITE
IT'S an earth shattering, life changing moment for any athlete to be told they will "play for Australia."
Not in an age or restricted competition but in the fully-fledged, green and gold-wearing national team.
Coffs Harbour's star wheelchair basketballer, Bill Latham returned from the Pacific Schools Games in Melbourne last week to find an e-mail announcing his selection for Australia.
"Maybe the coach was giving me a hint when he kept asking when I would turn 16," Latham said.
"The news left me in shock as I'm seven years younger than the next oldest member of the team."
"I always hoped I'd make the team but thought it was two years away, at least."
Latham will tour Japan in February for the Osaka Cup, the dress rehearsal for the Beijing Paralympics.
But there are still hurdles to be cleared before he's on the plane to the People's Republic.
"Somebody from the Athens squad still has to be shifted before I can force my way in," he admitted.
"This trip is a way of getting experience for the next move up the ladder."
To put it into perspective, it's a bit like selecting a cricketer for the national one day team as a means to blooding him for the Ashes Test series.
"Pretty much like that," he said.
"Australia's first opponent on tour is Canada, ranked number one in the world.
"Korea and the home nation are also in the pool."
Despite his tender years, Latham is already wise to the possibility of being the 'victim' of practical jokes on tour, the prospect leaving him highly amused.
"I've been told to be wary as I'm younger than the rest," he grinned.
"Don't get caught out of hotel rooms without a key or clothes.
"Especially, don't get into a spa bath while leaving an artificial leg around where it can be misplaced.
"Accidentally, of course."
To assist Latham with travel costs, Sportz Central manager Adrian Pickup has announced the creation of a 'Friends of Beijing Billy' fighting fund, based at the venue.
"It's a backhanded compliment, but Bill doesn't blow his own trumpet enough about his achievements," Pickup said.
"At the Pacific Games he wasn't just vice captain of the wheelies but the entire able-bodied state side as well.
"Somehow, it slipped his mind to tell us, but that's the sort of bloke he is."
Joining the Latham team is native Californian and monthly columnist in the Coffs Coast Advocate, Mark Borsuk D.C., a Chiropractic Physician and Applied Kinesioligist who'll advise Bill on fitness, injury management and getting into peak condition.
"Mark gives him the exact attention any Olympian gets," Pickup said.
"He doesn't charge a cent and it shows how much everybody is willing to get behind him."
Latham's support base continues to grow with good judges claiming he's the most unique athlete to emerge from the local area.
To be capped by his country so young with years of maturing still to come, nothing seems beyond him.