Fish out of Water: Michael Auprince
By Joel Mackenzie
The game of wheelchair basketball sees its fair share of athletes who cross over from other sports but few share the natural ability or drive to achieve at the highest level in multiple sports. That’s where Sydney Uni Wheelkings forward Michael Auprince is an anomaly.
An accomplished swimmer, Auprince won a gold medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London in the 4 x 100m Freestyle relay as well as a bronze medal in the 4 x 100m Medely relay. A year later he now finds himself in the starting five of the Sydney Uni Wheelkings, a bronze medallist from the U23 World Championships again as a member of the starting five and then, perhaps unexpectedly, earned a spot with the Australian Rollers in the 2013 Asia Oceania Championship team on the way to qualifying for the 2014 World Championships.
It’s by no means his first year in the sport having played in NSW junior teams since 2005, but to be in that elite class of athlete in multiple sports is a special achievement in itself and he’s so far welcomed the transition into the basketball system.
“The main difference between the two is basketball is a team sport, simple as that.
“Swimming is an individual sport portrayed as a team sport but at the end of the day you’re out there by yourself.
“In basketball, if you win you win as a team; if you lose you lose as a team.
“If don’t play well and the team still wins, no matter the personal gain, you’ve still won as a team and that’s the only result that counts.
“I just love the culture around wheelchair basketball. I look at the Rollers and I look at the Spinners and even the Wheelkings, it’s just a brilliant environment to be involved in”.
After a modest start to the 2013 NWBL season, Auprince worked incredibly hard on and off the court to develop his game. During the course of the season his chair skills noticeably improved and he developed a very handy mid-range jump shot that, given his height, is almost undefendable.
“At the Wheelkings our strength is in our guards for sure.
“We don’t have a lot of height in our team, so everyone has to be able to shoot.
Auprince says playing with the Wheelkings in 2013 he’s been able to make the most of the knowledge and experience among the playing group.
“We have people like Kylie Gauci and Sarah Stewart playing guard and though they play a different position to me, they’ve been involved in the game a lot longer than me and I’m forever learning things off them”.
2013 was Auprince’s fourth season in the NWBL and easily his best, averaging 13.5 points per game (ranked 13th in the league) to go along with 8 rebounds per game (ranked 7th in the league).
In a lot of ways he’s still very raw and Auprince still has plenty of improvement ahead of him. Boasting the perfect physical build for a wheelchair basketball player, a work ethic as good as anybody in the game and a natural ability that has National Team coaches salivating, he indeed has a long international career (and no more early morning swim training) ahead of him if he chooses.
At such a young age still, and with his history and success in the pool, wheelchair basketball and swimming seem almost destined to battle it out for his services. But which way will he go? Can he continue to compete at the highest level in both sports? And why the sudden change of sports following the Paralympics in London?
“I got to London (Paralympics) which was my main goal and you get to a point in sport where you don’t feel the drive anymore and I got there in swimming.
“Now it’s time to maybe focus on other things for a while, like work or Uni or maybe basketball”.