|Sam Van Rossom has steadily progressed from the third tier of Belgian basketball to the elite division in Spain|
By Dimitris Kontos
There are athletes who start off as teenage prodigies, others that have a couple of random brilliant seasons (or games) in a career of highs and lows, or those who explode late, as veterans, after years of quiet mediocrity.
And then there is Belgian international Sam Van Rossom, who belongs in two distinctly unique groups of athletes.
Firstly, the 27-year-old point guard is a member of the selective elite of basketball players that represent Belgium in top European clubs and leagues.
Secondly, his career is a showcase in linear progression.
Van Rossom started playing in the Belgian third division 11 years ago and has steadily improved his game, his stats and his status in the European basketball universe each and every season since then, without ever regressing in his development.
2013 has been then, predictably, the best year in his career so far, as he first impressed in the Spanish Liga Endesa play-offs with CAI Zaragoza, then led Belgium to their best EuroBasket finish in 36 years.
Now he is steering Valencia Basket, who are marching top of their group in the EuroCup and fourth in Spain, through a highly promising campaign in both competitions.
Many an athlete would give everything to know his secret - is it mainly specific individual work or being on the right team at the right time?
"It's both," Van Rossom confessed to fibaeurope.com
"It's about trying to push yourself every day in practice and get better, but also playing in a league like the ACB helps you a lot, because it is a big experience, it's probably the best domestic league in Europe.
"Every week you have a big challenge, a big game ahead of you, and that's what helps you in your development as a player.
"I wouldn't say the level in Belgium is bad, it is very good up until a certain level, until you need to take a step further and aim a little bit higher.
"But first of all, you need to take it step by step.
"First try to dominate in Belgium, have a few good seasons in Belgium, and then try to go abroad and try to make it abroad.
"It is a development [process] that goes on for many years.
"You cannot run before you can walk, you know?"
THE BELGIAN PROCESS
|Sam Van Rossom reached the EuroChallenge Final Four with Scavolini Pesaro in 2010|
Van Rossom has won the Belgian league and cup titles with Oostende, before departing in 2008 for Italy.
His biggest European distinction so far at club level has been participating in the EuroChallenge Final Four in 2010 with Scavolini Pesaro, in his last season before moving to Zaragoza.
Even if Valencia do not succeed in conquering their third Eurocup title this year, Van Rossom will still have a European success to look back at, Belgium's ninth-place finish at EuroBasket 2013.
"I think I've taken from this summer a lot of confidence and also something to be proud about," Van Rossom explained.
"Because we have come a long way with the national team.
"I remember when we started this project in 2005 or 2006, we had difficulties in finding 12 players from the first division.
"We have built something throughout the years and finished ninth at the EuroBasket.
"I think it was a great result and everyone was happy."
PIECES FALLING IN PLACE
Van Rossom has been an integral part of this successful renaissance, and of course he knows better than anyone that the key to its continuation is the 'walk before you can run' approach.
"Now it will be the time to come back to earth, keep our heads down and keep working so we produce similar results every year," he said.
"We have to go step by step, but I think we are doing a good job.
"There are some young talents coming up who can make it, if they keep working hard and take one step at the time.
In a way, Belgium's success last September in Slovenia, was a natural consequence of their first-round exit at EuroBasket 2011, on their re-appearance in the big tournament after a 19-year wait.
"Well, I need to say, two years ago in Lithuania we went with high hopes and nothing came out of it, we lost every game," Van Rossom reveals.
"I think that was a good lesson for us, everyone's feet got back on the ground and we became more realistic.
"[We realised] it is difficult to pass to the second round of a EuroBasket, especially for a small country like Belgium.
"But we worked hard and this year, it seemed like finally all the pieces of the puzzle fell together.
"Except for [Matt] Lojeski, who was injured in the end and it is a pity because he could have helped us a lot, maybe to reach even further."
BE THE BEST YOU CAN BE
Van Rossom is by now so acclimatised to Spain that nothing comes as a surprise, either in basketball terms or in every day life.
The Mediterranean climate and the seaside of Valencia were the only noticeable difference for the Ghent-born playmaker from Zaragoza.
"The sun every morning is a good thing to get you out of bed," he said jokingly.
But the sunshine is by no means the driving force behind his constant, linear development.
"What drives me is that I want to be successful, I want to win," he explained.
"That's why the move to Valencia was important to me.
"Last year we had a great season with Zaragoza but if you compare the two I think Valencia is one step further in development, they've been playing in Europe every year.
"So you know they compete every year to win the Eurocup, they go to the Copa del Rey, the (Liga Endesa) play-offs, they are a big team competing for titles.
"And that to me is the challenge, to keep improving, to get the maximum out of my career."