ParaSport News had the opportunity to interview Neydiann De Gracia, a member of the Puerto Rico women’s national basketball team. While her team may not be playing in Toronto, she and other players are busy working to develop the sport in their country.
ParaSport News: When did you join the national team? In what position do you play and what is your classification?
De Gracia : I started playing with the team in the summer 2012. I was classified 1.5, and I don’t have a position yet, since we don’t have enough players yet.
ParaSport News: Do you play for a club in Puerto Rico? In which conditions?
De Gracia : No. There are no individual leagues or clubs in Puerto Rico. We only have the two national teams (male and female) under the Wheelchair Basketball Federation, and a team west of the island that does not compete, it’s just recreational. Those of us at the Federation participate in clinics and activities around all the island, in mixed teams. We also participate in the NWBA league (division 3), against teams such as Fort Lauderdale Sharks, Brooks Ballers and the Tampa Bay Strong Dogs.
ParaSport News: What chances do you think your team has for the Para Panamerican Games? Is there any particular rival team you’d like to meet?
De Gracia : This year we weren’t able to participate in qualifiers for the Para Panamerican Games. Only the Men’s team was able to qualify for it. We are in a recruitment phase so we can comply with future international tournaments. When our team is ready, I think we will have many options to reach Parapanamerican level. I also trust we will be able to be among the best teams from the Caribbean, Central and South America, since we have an excellent technical staff and a huge desire to represent our island at the international level. Currently I would like to be able to face Peru, who qualified for the Women’s World Cup last year, and also teams such as Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, who qualified for the Para Panamericans this year.
ParaSport News: Do you think your team has options to qualify for Rio’16?
De Gracia : I think everything is possible. Once we are organized and we’re able to keep participating in international tournaments, and gain experience, I think the possibility exists. It’s one of the goals we have established for ourselves, and we’ll do everything we can to achieve it.
ParaSport News: What has been your favourite game you’ve played as a member of the national team?
De Gracia : Those we play in our annual tournament 3 on 3, where we compete against ourselves (mixed). Every year we can see our level is improving and that our male colleagues take us more into account.
ParaSport News: What level of support is there in Puerto Rico for Women’s Wheelchair Basketball?
De Gracia : Currently the level of support in the island is increasing thanks to the sport clinics we offer (free of charge) to schools, prisons and organizations in general. At those, we play exhibition games, explain everything related to the technical side of the game and then we let the audience go through the experience of playing in a wheelchair. This kind of work has provided us with support, from people and from some organizations that sponsor the general activities of the Federation. We also have the financial support of the government. Nonetheless, every player, male and female alike, needs to find individual sponsorship for their wheelchair, or pay it from their own pocket.
ParaSport News: You play 3 on 3. What are the differences compared to 5 on 5? How popular is 3 on 3 in Puerto Rico?
De Gracia : Yes. We’ve played mixed team 3 on 3 at the national level and we had the chance to play against the Women’s team of the Dominican Republic, who are also at the formative stages of team development for both the Men’s and Women’s teams. 3 on 3 is much faster and has more physical contact than regular 5 on 5. It helps you develop a tighter teamplay and be more focused on assisting your teammates. This kind of competition is increasing in Puerto Rico, as FIBA has organized some tournaments at the national level, in which we’ve been able to participate.
ParaSport News: Outside basketball, what do you do?
De Gracia : Currently I’m unemployed, but I do some work for professional services, of data entry for Fondos Unidos, and I have a Bachelor’s degree in Information Systems. I like the beach and run kayak, and a few days ago I participated at the national games in the javelin event.