When you enter the training facility of Port of Antwerp Giants, you get the feeling of entering a fortress - a rather appropriate place to interview a player with the fighting prowess of Maxime De Zeeuw.
|Maxime De Zeeuw made the most of his opportunities in a Belgium jersey this summer, providing invaluable minutes off the bench|
Fighting for a Place on the Squad
Maxime De Zeeuw is a fighter. But not in the fisticuffs type of way. Rather, someone who relishes the challenges set down in front of them and attacks them with a fervour that inevitably leads to success.
Take this summer for example. Initially left out of the Belgium squad for EuroBasket - a tournament he had appeared in two years previous - De Zeeuw did not give up fighting the dream of playing and was justly rewarded.
"I got picked up following a few preparation games so I was not expecting to be in the team.
"I took my chance and coach (Eddy Casteels) gave me some playing time which I tried to use to my advantage as much as I could and I think I succeeded in doing that."
That chance meant a more-than-respectable 10.7 minutes-a-night, with the power forward tasked with guarding some of the most formidable big men plying their trade in Europe and the US.
"It was quite intensive and a lot of work but still, I was happy to be there and competing against Euroleague players every day. It was amazing, really amazing.
"I enjoyed every second on the floor and playing against players like [Nenad] Krstic."
Fighting for Respect
Then there was the second fight: this time against the critics to prove that Belgium is deserved of a spot amongst Europe's basketball elite.
De Zeeuw played an important role as the Belgians surprised the critics - and even themselves to an extent - scoring over five points-a-night to get Belgium out of the First Round and eventually into a more than credible ninth-spot finish.
"Nobody expected it but I knew we could compete with some good teams.
"I know we were better than where the power rankings put us in.
"To be in ninth place, only two places away from World Cup qualification - that is quite impressive for us."
Fighting for Exposure
Despite the success of the 26-year-old and his peers, De Zeeuw believes that basketball still only remains on the edge of the radar back in Belgium.
"We are still a soccer country and it will never change," says De Zeeuw.
"Maybe we got a few more followers but I do not believe it changed a lot about the vision of basketball in our country...when you play a soccer game you have eight pages in the newspaper," something which has also been aided by Belgium qualifying for the 2014 Football World Cup in Brazil.
"For a small country like us - it is quite impressive what we are doing, not only in soccer and basketball but also in volleyball. It is great for the country."
|Roel Moors is one of four PO Antwerp players to have represented Belgium at EuroBasket 2013|
The Fight Ahead
Having come up against some of the best power forwards in the business, it is now important for De Zeeuw, and indeed Port of Antwerp Giants, that he learns from the experiences had in Slovenia and transforms it into consistent points production for the team in the EuroChallenge, especially if they are to better their quarter-final appearance achieved back in 2010.
"Last year we missed the Second Round, we had the same amount of victories as the first and second teams [in our First Round group] but we didn't qualify. We want to get there this year but we know it is going to be tough match ups," says the Brussels native who achieved 5.3 points-a-night in the 2013 campaign.
"It is great. I have never been to Estonia. I like going to other countries, seeing new people, seeing other cities and cultures.
"I like the fact that we travel and play against different basketball styles."
This year, with a new coach on board in Paul Vervaeck, it may not just be new systems that De Zeeuw is playing against, but also playing within.
That has meant an adjustment period in a short space of time, with De Zeeuw, Roel Moors, Yannick Driesen and Jean-Marc Mwema joining the preparation period late, thanks to the success of Belgium in Slovenia.
"It was really difficult and really easy at the same time," says De Zeeuw of the adjustment.
"The coach explained to us his philosophy and it was really easy to catch up."
At the time of the interview, just over a month out from the beginning of the EuroChallenge, De Zeeuw voiced his concerns over the "readiness" of the team ahead of their opening game in the competition, away to Dijon Basket on 5 November.
However, he did go on to point at early success in the Belgian Ethias League as a barometer of what could be to come.
"The fact we beat (defending champions) Oostende is a huge amount of confidence for us for the rest of the season because we did not think we were ready yet but I think we showed some character.
"We need to practice now, keep doing what we are doing and be ready for EuroChallenge."