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The prospects of defending National Wheelchair Basketball League champions, the Wollongong Roller Hawks, have taken a step up with the return of home grown son, Shawn Russell.

The 2016 Paralympian started as a Roller Hawks junior in 2005 and played in 2011 and 2012 championships before moving to Melbourne for work commitments. After a fruitful tenure that included NWBL championships with the Kilsyth Cobras in 2015 and 2016, Russell has returned to Wollongong and to the Roller Hawks.

“It was always the intention to move back. Melbourne was always going to be a short stint just with work and basketball,” says Russell.

Russell’s return is a major coup for the Roller Hawks who will be out to defend their 2017 title.

“My intention is not to come and take anyone’s court time. They won a championship last year so they don’t need me to be here but I’m happy to do whatever they need me to do really.”

Russell’s return gives the Roller Hawks a new look and ensures the side has the depth it needs going into what is a World Championship year. Roller Hawks captain Brett Stibners is excited to have the man they call ‘Huss’ back.

“We’re really lucky actually in getting him back because ‘Aupie’ (Michael Auprince) is missing a third of the season because he’s in America at college. Last year we had a couple of rounds we didn’t have ‘Aupie’ so it was a bit of a struggle,” says Stibners.

“Having ‘Huss’ back is fantastic. He’s now our quickest player which is great. He’s just got to slow down and learn to play our tempo of basketball. We can press now with him and Luke (Pople) upfront so he gives a lot more opportunities to play better basketball.”

Growing up in Farmborough Heights, Russell wasted little time upon his return to the region in December, getting straight back into training with his old teammates.

“Majority of the players are still here which is good. So I’ve just come back into the group like I was never away,” says Russell.

“It’s a lot different to the system we used to have here. It used to be more run and gun...whereas now everyone’s got a little bit older (laugh) so everyone’s a little bit slower so it’s more about patience and moving the ball around and being smarter.”

While the Roller Hawks will once again be a force to be reckoned with on the court, no one in the side is taking anything for granted including Russell.

“Because we’re going into a world championship year with the men’s team I think all teams are stepping up another level now so I think any team can win on any day.  I don’t think there’s any expectations we’ll win again but hopefully we’ll go close and see what we can do.”

The NWBL season begins on 16th March with a Cluster Round that will see all seven teams travel to Perth with each team playing up to 4 games in 3 days.