The Long Way Back

31 October 2013

Derek Raivio may have been born in Belgium - but it was a long journey before the former Gonzaga University guard returned to his country of birth to play for Okapi Aalstar.

It has also been a far from conventional journey for the 27-year-old whose professional basketball career has seen him playing on three continents.


Overcoming The Injury Hump

5. Derek Raivio (Okapi Aalstar)
An excellent shooter, Derek Raivio knocked down almost 60% of his shots from downtown last season

"After college I came to Germany to play for three years in the Bundesliga and I had a couple of good years but then I got injured and had a couple of ups and downs and before going to the D-League, then from there I went to Japan."

Injury-induced setbacks are hardly foreign territory to the Raivio family. Derek's father, Rick, was a standout college player for the University of Portland, going on to be drafted by the LA Lakers in 1980 - right at the beginning of the famous "showtime" era.

Breaking his ankle soon before the draft, Rick was never able to discover his NBA aspirations, instead pursuing a successful 11-year professional career spanning across Belgium (during which period Derek was born) and France.

Like his father, Raivio was also able to turn a negative outlook into a positive outcome, eventually getting past his injury problems and reinvigorating his career in Japan.

"There was a point where I didn't have many options and then I learned of this Japan thing through a friend and that was the point when I looked at myself in the mirror and said ‘time to step your game back up.'

He admits that going to Japan, "was a massive culture shock but I was grateful for the opportunity and it was a chance for me to find myself again."


Back To Europe

From Japan Raivio moved on to Aalst, where he wasted no time fitting in, starring in his first year, as the Okapi Aalstar went to the semi-finals of the Ethias League and earlier this season claimed a second consecutive Belgian SuperCup.

The sharp-shooting guard was also the driving force in getting his team as far as the EuroChallenge Last 16, knocking down 16.3 points-a-night at an impressive notch of 59% from downtown, whilst also dishing out 4.6 assists an outing.


Settling Into The Aalst Way Of Life

For Raivio - and the club as well - it was a no-brainer to sign on for a second season in Belgium.

"I had some other options after last season but I really like coach (Brad Dean) here - he supports me 100% and lets me play my game and he helps me develop and that is probably the biggest factor - that is ultimately what helped me make my decision.

Of course, some persuasion may have also come from the stoic fan base.

"[In Belgium] Basketball takes a backseat to football but you definitely would not notice that here [in Aalst]," where quite literally the 2,345-seat Forum Arena is packed to the rafters for every Ethias League game, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere for unsuspecting visiting teams.

"It's a great atmosphere - the fans are nuts and they support you. I definitely think it is a huge advantage when you play a home game here. It lifts your spirits when you see the city has your back."


A Basketball Gene Pool

Despite the obvious connections with Belgium - his country of birth and the place where his father made a name for himself in Europe as a star for the now defunct Korac Cup competitors, Maes Pils Mechelen - Derek does not believe these played a role in his professional career landing him in the Benelux country.

"I don't think it was a huge factor in them choosing me but I know that coach has mentioned my dad before and sometimes when I go to opposing gyms the management people or the older people mention my dad.

"My dad is probably the biggest role model in my life.

"I have two brothers - one of them plays in Hungary right now and in the EuroChallenge too.

"We used to go to practice with dad and I can remember being on the sideline dribbling up and down.

"We always looked up to him and basketball was kind of love at first sight. We were kind of addicted."

Whilst one brother, Matt, has given the game up, Derek's other brother Nikolas, as he mentions, plays for Hungarian EuroChallenge competitors, Fortress Jaszberenyi.

Should the stars align, there is a chance that the backcourt marshals could meet in the Round of 16.

6. Ioana Tofi (Okapi Aalstar)
Ioana Tofi and a core of other players return to the Aalstars alongside Raivio, making them an experienced side

"That would be awesome," enthuses Raivio at the thought of playing his brother. "If that did happen, it would be a dream come true. I played against him in the D-League but never in Europe."

"Of course I want to do better than him so that comes out in each of us but we are each other's number one fans and we are always checking up on each other and talk almost daily and discuss our games."


Going The Extra Round

Having experienced the Round of 16 last season, the experienced guard now has his sights set on going at least that far again this time round.

"Last year we got off on a good roll but then injuries hit us pretty hard.

"This year we are still trying to find our identity a little bit. We have got new players but we just want to advance as far as we can.

"Last year we got as far as the second round and this year everyone wants to go at least one step further."



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