Belgium’s ‘Late Bloomer’

06 February 2012

BASKETBALL IN EUROPE

Yannick Driesen
Belgian center Yannick Driesen moved to Madrid to join Estudiantes in 2006, immediately after high school

By Jeff Taylor

Yannick Driesen came off the bench for Asefa Estudiantes recently in a game against Valencia and tried to spark the team on both ends of the floor.

He played hard, but Estudiantes were on their way to their 12th defeat in 18 games.

Afterward, Driesen spoke to FIBAEurope.com.

"Today wasn't a great game," Driesen said.

"However, the team is becoming a little bit better in every game that we play. We have to keep on working."

It's not been an easy year for the young side.

There is the 23-year-old Driesen, Jayson Granger (22), Jaime Fernández Bernabé (18), Edu Martinez (21) and Great Britain international Daniel Clark (23).

There are a few veterans, too, like former Spain captain Carlos Jimenez and ex-national team man Rodrigo de la Fuente, but for the most part, this is a team that relies heavily on youth.

And that means the 2.16m Driesen, a Belgian, is getting a chance to play in arguably the toughest league in Europe.

On Saturday night, former Real Madrid big man Thomas Van Den Spiegel was asked about his countryman after Driesen entered the contest at Valencia.

"Big body with good touch until 3pt range," Van Den Spiegel tweeted.

"Late bloomer."

"Thanks to Tomas for saying that," Driesen said after the game.

"I hope the things Tomas says will one day be true."

Driesen knows his way around Estudiantes.

He's been with the club for several years.

He has been able to play games in front of some of the rowdiest and most committed fans in Europe.

"There is Real Madrid, but the real people in Madrid like Estudiantes," Driesen said with a grin.

"We're playing with young guys, trying to compete and just play hard. It's a special feeling and it's a good feeling.

"They gave me an offer six years ago and I'm still here."

How long does he plan on staying?

"When I got here, I signed for four years," he said.

"Last year I renewed my contract for one more year so we'll see.

"I hope to have a good position with a team in Spain (in the future). If it's Estudiantes, it's Estudiantes.

"I hope that I can be an important player in Europe and I hope this can come true."


NATIONAL TEAM

Driesen hopes to play for his national team.

Belgium will this summer play in the Qualification Round for EuroBasket 2013.

"Yes, for sure," Driesen said of his desire to represent his country.

"I was there for the last couple of years.

"Last summer, I didn't go to the EuroBasket because I wanted to be here (in Spain) for the beginning of the season.

"That way I wouldn't miss any practices.

"I wanted to make sure I got the most out of this year. But we have a young team in Belgium, a couple of players coming up.

"We have a young group that works hard. I hope that one day, we can become really good."

Belgium still have to qualify for the EuroBasket, but with the tournament having been expanded to 24 teams, their chances of making it on a regular basis are better.

"For Belgium, it was like 18 years (1993) that we had last played at a European Championship," Driesen said.

"Last year we made it, didn't play that great.

"But now it's going to be easier to go to the European Championship and try to improve every year that we play together."

Belgium will play in Qualifying Round Group E against Finland, Poland, Switzerland and Albania.

The top two sides in each of the four groups, and the four best third-place teams will progress to Slovenia.

Driesen's plan is to play for Belgium.

"I hope so," he said. "It depends on the coach."


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