|"I really believe that we can make it [Belgian basketball] better" - Axel Hervelle |
By Mark Woods
Axel Hervelle has been through a decade of ups and downs for Belgium's national team, from obscurity in the old Division B to fights for recognition at home and abroad.
Now in Slovenia, in their second successive appearance in a EuroBasket, the Lions are roaring. This is, undoubtedly, a golden era.
Their U20 men narrowly missed promotion into the top tier earlier this summer behind the promising talent Emmanuel Lecomte.
Their women have also emerged as one of the powerhousea at junior level, hinting at future success on the senior stage. The Belgian Basketball Federation, and their partners in Wallonia and Flanders, have looked long-term.
Hervelle, now aged 30, had to fight to make it through the ranks and emerge as a durable performer in Spain's ACB and in the Euroleague. His successors, he hopes, can benefit from what has been achieved already and go on to accomplish more.
"I really do believe that we can make it better," he said. "Our budget is really low but if people start to believe in basketball and invest in the sport, in development opportunities and the teams, and young talents, things will progress. There is a lot of young talent. It can only get better.
"Now we've been working with the same people for almost eight years and the programme that's been made by Jacques Ledure and the coaches, based on working with young players, it shows what can happen."
1977 was the last time the Belgians reached the quarter-finals. You need to go back 30 more years for their one and only semi-final showing. There is no track record of note but that is slowly changing, Hervelle notes.
|Hervelle and teammate Wen Mukubu have had plenty of reason for smiles so far in Ljubljana|
Continuity has been important. Players like the Bilbao forward, centre Christophe Beghin, and Roel Moors have been fixtures for several years. While later arrivals such as Sam van Rossom and Jonathan Tabu have only strengthened the hand of veteran coach Eddy Casteels.
In Slovenia, they have been one of the pleasant surprises. A narrow loss to Ukraine was followed by an overtime victory over Germany, Then, crucially, a late surge took them past Great Britain. A spot in the second phase is a real prospect and, certainly, an improvement on their 21st place of 2011.
That can only be good for the health of the sport, adds Hervelle. When he returns home each summer, he sees signs that hoops is gaining traction and credibility.
"We are happy about being noticed more," he declares. "You see the people who have come here, the supporters. There is almost 100 people who have come to see us play. That's almost unbelievable. We feel a lot of the public back in Belgium supporting us.
"This is for us the greatest boost because we are working every day for them, for the people who recognise us and the job we do. And when you feel you are giving back something to them on the court, it is the best feeling."