|Out for around two weeks: point guard Derek Raivio |
"I'm proud of my players because they kept competing until the end," Okapi Aalstar head coach Bradley Dean said on Tuesday, following his team's 103-80 loss to EWE Baskets Oldenburg in EuroChallenge Group L.
It is a very unusual statement by a coach who has just witnessed his side losing by 23 points at home, but the 60-year-old American tactician is neither inexperienced nor is satisfied with mediocrity.
Dean has been in charge of the Belgian club since January 2004 and has been paramount in their gradual consolidation as one of the leading sides in the country, leading them to the Ethias league finals and a Belgian cup title for the first time in their history.
In 2010, the Swedish federation, impressed with his record in Belgium, decided to hand him the reins of their senior national team.
Last summer, Dean steered the Scandinavians to a second-place finish in Qualification Round Group B and a place at EuroBasket 2013, next September.
But the coach, and Aalstar, have probably never faced so much adversity during his almost decade-long tenure at the club as in the last week or so.
Right now, Aalstar are four players short and they are probably more preoccupied with being able to field a team of senior players in the next game, against Belgacom Spirou on Friday night, rather than actually winning it.
In the space of just 48 hours, Aalstar lost three players to injury.
Last Friday, Derek Raivio, who had been going through an excellent run of form, learned that he would have to be sidelined for up to two weeks because he had torn a muscle.
The point guard sat out last weekend's 73-63 loss to BC Telenet Oostende in the Ethias League and sat on the bench but did not feature at all in Tuesday's EuroChallenge clash.
Neither did forward Noah Hartsock, who was diagnosed with a blood clot in his arm on the weekend and shooting guard Larry Anderson, who suffered a meniscus injury at Oostende and will be sidelined for at least a month.
|Another blow for Aalst is the injury of Larry Anderson |
Then on Wednesday, the club announced they would not extend the temporary contract of Bradley Tinsley, which expires at the end of January.
Tinsley joined the team in December, to replace the injured Jason Clark and did not manage to convince he could fill the void of his compatriot, who averaged 15.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.
December was in fact when Aalstar's campagn started taking a turn to the worse.
Aalst started off the season on a 6-1 record in the Ethias League and were at the top of the standings until December.
They also clinched qualification to the EuroChallenge Last 16 quite comfortably, finishing tied at 4-2 with Paris Levallois in Group, despite losing the final game of the Regular Season to the French side.
Then came a string of unfortunate events that gradually made them slip to second, and then third place in the domestic league standings.
The Belgians were hoping they could turn a page and recover their previous form last week, when they survived a double overtime thriller in Belarus to clinch a morale-boosting 91-87 victory over Tsmoki Minsk, their first in the Last 16 of the EuroChallenge.
But, perhaps in a sign of things to come, the journey back home from Belarus proved complicated and the team only arrived on Thursday, just hours before Raivio's injury was discovered and one day before the trip to Oostende.
Aalstar are tied with Tsmoki Minsk and Telekom Baskets Bonn at 1-2 in EuroChallenge Group L, behind the still undefeated EWE Baskets Oldenburg.
They are travelling to Germany to take on Bonn on Tuesday, in Week 4 action.