Dutch Aim To Build On Unprecedented Success


The Dutch Basketball Federation is scrambling for a new trophy cabinet this week.

Both the men's and the women's Under-20 teams brought the silverware home from the Division B European Championships in the last fortnight.

Before now, the Netherlands could claim only one other title in basketball history. That came when the perhaps greatest Dutch player in history, Kees Akerboom, led a side to victory at the Challenge Round Tournament in 1982,

10. Jessey Voorn (Netherlands)
Players like Jessey Voorn represent the future of basketball in the Netherlands.
going unbeaten in the tournament in Portugal.

Now, a strong investment in the country's youth policy is paying off, leaving fans and officials to dream of the success being carried forward as the current crop of youngsters graduate to play for the senior teams.

"We hope this can help us build up a strong basketball country," women's U20 coach Frans Griffioen told FIBA Europe.

"When your national teams are playing well, others become interested in playing too.

"When you have had two championships in the space of two weeks, that's great publicity, so now it's the job of our federation to promote basketball and build on it."

Griffioen did not have to wait long to get a sense of the excitement his players have provoked.

Only hours after they completed their 59-53 win over Romania in the final, they were touching back down at home, where they received a raptuous reception at the airport.

Now he is anxious to build on the momentum the two teams have created.

"I hope this shows people recognise we are doing a good job because we want to build a better program for our national teams and our clubs and that will take a lot of money," he said.

Starting later this year, the Dutch will launch an ambitious new program designed to hugely increase the amount of practice time their young players get to improve their games.

Whereas right now they are limited to 6-8 hours a week - "not enough at this level", as Griffioen said - from September the plan is for players under the age of 23 to spend around 20 hours a week in the gym.

"This will be a big step forward for us," said Griffioen.

Griffioen admitted he had a hard time imagining that anything like this could happen after his team began their campaign in Ohrid with a pair of losses.

In the first, a 79-63 defeat to Romania, the Dutch were held to just 16 points combined in the second and third quarters, and Griffioen was ready to despair as his team fell into a 30-point hole against the Slovak Republic in their second game.

"That was my worst moment," he said. "They were just killing us everywhere, in scoring, on the breaks. When you're 30 points behind, you worry about a mindset sinking in and you thinking to yourself, 'I thought we had a good team but maybe we're not strong enough at this level'."

But Griffioen's players surprised their coach with their unwavering faith.

They showed some steel by closing the gap to 10 in what ended as an 88-78 defeat, and then the next day used a team meeting to reassert their goal of reaching the final.

"Their optimistic view gave me a very good feeling and then the confidence just grew," he said.

The Dutch never looked back, winning every game the rest of the way.

"It was very emotional to win the title," Griffioen said.

"I didn't expect that it would have such an impact on me, but you work very hard with these players for such a long time, and when you meet your goals it's a fantastic moment.

"They were a fantastic team to work with, they came very focused, worked very hard, and knew exactly what they had to do.

"It was very important to show people in Holland that it's possible for us to be European champions. Maybe it also helped the men's team too because we showed that it could be done and that they could do it too."

Do it they did, with the men winning every game they played in Skopje, capping it with an 88-77 victory over the Czech Republic in the final.

"Let all the parents and friends of these players remember what they have given up to achieve this," said coach Burhan Alibegovic after the win on Sunday.

"This European title is the result of the excellent co-operation of everyone involved. We are most proud."

Now the challenge for both coaches will be to survive in Division A - promotion being their reward for this year's success.

Part of the nature of coaching youth basketball is the constant turnover in rosters as players graduate to the next age level.

"It is a pity that we will lose five important players from our team," said Griffioen. "It would be better if they could stay one more year and help us, but that's the system and you have to deal with it.

"There is plenty of talent coming through from the U18 and U16 teams, so it's a new challenge and you look forward to it. Although it's disappointing to lose players, it is also an opportunity."

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