By Jeff Taylor
|BC Oostende did their best to maintain the basic core of players and Veselin Petrovic is a prime example. The 34-year-old Bosnian forward has been with the club for over six years now|
One cannot fully appreciate what a team like BC Telenet Oostende has experienced this season unless you go back to the very beginning with coach Jean-Marc Jaumin.
In fact, go back even further, to 28 March 2010, when Jaumin replaced Memi Becirovic as coach.
Jaumin, a former national team player in Belgium, wasted no time in collecting a trophy as the new boss.
He led Oostende to a Belgian Cup triumph over Spirou Charleroi.
While Charleroi avenged that setback in the semi-finals of the Ethias League play-offs and then went on to capture the Belgian league title and qualify for the Euroleague, the Belgian Cup triumph ensured the year would be considered a good one for basketball fans in Ostend, which is famous for its seaside esplanade, pier, and fine sandy beaches.
So before the 2010-11 campaign, expectations were high.
Things rarely go as smoothly as teams believe they will, though.
"It wasn't easy," Jaumin says to Basketball World News.
"We didn't have a great start in the EuroChallenge competition.
"That was due to some problems, some injuries to key players in the team."
In the EuroChallenge, Oostende lost two of their first three games to Nancy and Dexia Mons-Hainaut by a combined six points.
"A lot of people had a lot of expectations for our team because we had managed to keep nine players from the previous season and also because of our successes," Jaumin says.
"But I had lost three key players, including my point guard Eddie Gill, along with Bracey Wright and Dragisa Drobnjak."
Those were three big losses.
Wright helped Cedevita Zagreb reach the Eurocup Finals and Drobnjak is now with KRKA, a surprise package in Slovenia that Oostende will face in the EuroChallenge Final Four on April 29.
"These were three key players, leaders," Jaumin says.
"And we had some problems compensating."
Another complicating factor was a hamstring injury picked up in October by Trevor Huffman that sidelined the veteran guard for several months.
"We rebuilt the team with Trevor Huffman, who was supposed to be there from the beginning of the championship," Jaumin says.
"And we had managed to keep Matt Lojeski and Marcus Faison, who has a lot of experience in the team.
"We had a very good team, but we had lost our true leaders, our go-to guy, and then Huffman got hurt and that was a big loss."
After some early struggles, Oostende began finding ways to win.
After the two defeats in the first three EuroChallenge games, they prevailed in three straight to advance to the next stage.
They've been on a roll ever since, winning seven of their next nine games in Europe, including two out of three against BK Ventspils in the Quarter-Finals.
Huffman has also recently come back into the squad.
"He's back and you can see the experience, his charisma," Jaumin says.
"He can bring tranquility to the game in those crucial moments."
Game After Game After Game
Things are happening very quickly now for Jaumin's team.
If they're not playing in a league game, it's the Belgian Cup.
And if it's not either of those, it's the EuroChallenge.
It's late April, the defining moment of Oostende's season.
"In all of the championships in Europe, there are top teams that are also competitive in the Euroleague, Eurocup or their championship and we have managed to do that here," Jaumin says.
|Head Coach Jean-Marc Jaumin, who accumulated vast European experience as a player, knows that one of the consequences of competing at the top level is being able to play in three competitions simultaneously |
"I'm not comparing us to Barcelona or Real Madrid, but physically, I think we are ready to face any team and tactically, I have a smart team.
"And I have a good team on and off the court.
"There are no individuals that are so big that it disrupts the team.
"We have a really good atmosphere here."
Oostende are hosting the EuroChallenge Final Four April 29 to May 1, but even before then, on April 25, the team will be in Antwerp going up against Dexia Mons-Hainaut in the Belgian Cup.
Jaumin has to be careful about how he uses his players in all of these games.
"If you are willing to play all of these competitions, you have to understand that you can't always play guys 30 minutes a game," Jaumin says.
"I try to rotate a lot, and during the practices we do a lot of recuperation to keep them fresh for the games.
"I know we have a tough schedule and the Belgium Cup just before the EuroChallenge Final Four.
"And I know it's going to be tough, whatever the result is against Mons, to have our players back (mentally and physically) for the Final Four."
It's simply the way it has to be.
"For them now, every game is a final," the coach says.
"In the league, we are trying to finish in the fourth position. Maybe we have a small chance to finish third but then we are depending on other teams.
"In the Belgian Cup, it's the first opportunity to win something so I think the players will stop thinking about the European Final Four and think about the Belgian Cup, even though in Europe it's always the best way to show yourself (to potential scouts).
"But it's always important to win a trophy. In two or three years, they will ask about who won the trophy (Belgian Cup).
"No one will care about who played in the final.
"So the players realize they will need to do everything to try and win the Belgium Cup and only then they can begin to think about the EuroChallenge."
The KRKA Novo Mesto Hurdle
Once they do think about the EuroChallenge, Jaumin will make his players understand that KRKA Novo Mesto are formidable opponents.
Jaumin knows a good team when he sees one because he played on so many himself.
Not only was he on the books of sides in Belgium, but Spain as well.
He played in Real Madrid, Gran Canaria and Unicaja Malaga.
With the latter, he won the 2001 Korac Cup.
"Who knows, 10 years later, maybe I'll win again," he says.
KRKA will be in an angry mood with a point to prove.
They fell in the Adriatic League Final Four on Tuesday to Union Olimpija.
|One of the major challenges Jaumin faces is to rotate efficiently whilst getting the results. American guard Mat Lojeski is averaging 31 minutes of playing time in the Belgian league and 32 minutes in the EuroChallenge|
"It's a very, very solid team," Jaumin says.
"The coach (Aleksandar Dzikic) has done a very good job molding these players into a team.
"It's not just one or two guys that can make a difference in this team.
"Anyone can make a difference. Drobnjak is a key player and he also knows how I work.
"Novo Mesto are not in the (EuroChallenge) Final Four for nothing."
KRKA have indeed raised a lot of eyebrows.
"They beat Antwerp and Mons two times in the qualification round," Jaumin says.
"To do that, you need to be strong.
"It's going to be heart against heart and the best will win.
"But it's not going to be a big difference, I can tell you that, because I have a lot of respect for the coach on the other side and for all of the results they have had up to now."
Life After Playing
After Jaumin finished his career as a player in 2005 at Oostende with a league title, he could not have imagined how well things would go for him as a coach.
He first worked as a youth team boss of Oostende.
"We built a basketball school here in Oostende and I worked with them for two and a half years before becoming an assistant to the first team and later on the coach," he says.
"I've been with them the whole time. I took over last year - precisely one year ago - from Memi Becirovic and we won the Cup.
"We could have had a great ending for the league but the tank was empty and we only managed to finish third in the championship."
It's been a promising for Jaumin's coaching career.
He's right where he wants to be.
"This is my first year as a coach from the beginning (of the season) and I am happy to be at the head of this team," he says.
"It's a great team and we've been competitive in all three competitions."
Oostende's success has also been a part of a larger story, a rebirth of sorts of Belgian basketball.
The national team last summer qualified for EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania and the club sides have kept the country in the limelight.
"We've had good results in Belgium - the national team, Charleroi in the Euroleague," Jaumin said.
"We had three teams that were competitive in the second round of the EuroChallenge and now in the Final Four.
"Hopefully we can win something."