New Coach for Eagles

Leon Fleiser’s latest gig is to keep the Discovery Eagles wheelchair basketball team playing at the top of its game.

That’s the bottom line from 36-year-old Durban-born Leon Fleiser, who has taken over the coaching reins from veteran Eagles trainer Viv Sierra for the next three years. WBSA rules preclude Sierra from coaching other teams besides the national squad. Sierra’s new beat is to temper the SA National WB squad into a finely honed, world-class basketball team. And for good reason; the team will play in three international tours this year. The last long weekend of April saw Viv Sierra gather the national squad players for a national training camp at the Mandeville Sports Centre in Gauteng. These will take place every two months. In the meantime, Fleiser gets on with coaching the Discovery Eagles, his old team.

His sports track record makes him a positive option as the Eagles’ new coach. How he got here is a story that began in 1992. A week before his 21st birthday, a nightclub shooting incident left him a T8 paraplegic. He started playing wheelchair basketball in Roodepoort in 1995.

From 2000 He played at club level for Mandeville (now Discovery Eagles) and at provincial level for Central Gauteng, captaining both teams. He coached the junior squads of both teams from 2002. He played on the national team from 1999 until his retirement in 2006. He’s a family man now, with a wife and two small sons. Even though he was born in Durban, he supports the Gauteng Lions. Fleiser works for the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC). (Picture: New Eagles coach Leon Fleiser is ready to rock and roll!)

Incidentally, many of the Central Gauteng provincial players come from the Discovery Eagles (club) team. And at least three Eagles players will play on the national squad. This indicates just how good the Eagles team and its players really are.

Teamwork and basics
“I want to make it enjoyable,” says Fleiser of his coaching strategy. “If the guys are not enjoying themselves, why should they play? They can only win as a team, and they must lose as a team. I don’t like players trying to be individual stars. A fancy move might look brilliant – when it works. But it looks stupid when it doesn’t come off. I would rather have the guys stick to teamwork and basics.”

As the team coach, Fleiser is more like a ‘daddy’ to the players. Plus he’s got to be a mommy, a doctor, a psychologist and the team’s biggest fan. He is frustrated at times when a player with huge potential isn’t aware of his own talent. Even so, he makes a point of not yelling at players for making mistakes.

Promising players
Despite his aversion to any individual player, Fleiser doesn’t hesitate to name the men who ‘stand’ out on the Eagles team. The captain, Marcus Retief (no. 4), is a young para who has been playing for only three years; Malcolm Chinian (no. 5) is a para and U23 Junior playing for five years; Willie Mulder (no. 11) is an amputee who has played for almost 25 years, and grant Waites (no. 12) has played for 17 years as an amputee. That’s about 50 years’ worth of experience right there, already. Fleiser is also keeping an eye on the progress of Allen Mtatase (no. 7) and Emmanuel Cudjuno (no. 14), two promising players in the Eagles team.

SuperSport rules allow a wheelchair basketball team to have a maximum of ten players. At the moment, the Discovery Eagles team only has nine. Fleiser is expecting to have an English WB player named Jellows to fill the slot in a month or two.

Not many people know that the local WBSA league rules allow for one able-bodied player (in a wheelchair!) on a team with the maximum classification of 4.5. A quadriplegic player would be in class 1; a paraplegic player in class 1.5. Leg amputees and cerebral palsy players fall into the in-between classes.

Leon Fleiser has a final, special word of thanks to the sponsors of his team, Discovery Health. “They have sponsored us for the fifth year now, and they have been great,” says Fleiser.

“Without the sponsors, nothing happens; there would be no basketball. But because of Discovery, the guys don’t have to buy their own chairs, wheels, tyres and tubes. They get to wear a cool uniform and look really great on the court. Four out of the ten players are unemployed. But Discovery has enabled them to realise their dreams; to travel the world through their sport. So thank you Discovery. Without you, we would never have these opportunities.”

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