|Axel Hervelle is joining Belgium off a successful season with Spanish side Bilbao|
LIONS BID TO MAKE THEIR ROAR HEARD
There are immediate points to prove for the Belgian Lions at EuroBasket 2013 and also the seeds of hope to sew for the future. Written off by many experts before the start of this tournament, a bold target of reaching the second round has been set. In addition, with long-time head coach Eddy Casteels putting his club career on hold to focus entirely on achieving that mission, his team come to Slovenia with real intent.
Whether that can be accomplished is a different matter for a side which qualified behind Poland and Finland last summer to reach their second successive EuroBasket. Not since 1977 have they been to the quarter-finals and although two years ago, in Lithuania, Belgium returned to the Final Round after an 18-year absence, they left without a victory.
Yet many who were top-level rookies then are now veterans. With that additional experience behind them, a squad led by Spanish-based pair Axel Hervelle and Sam van Rossom will try to confound the sceptics and in a group where Germany, Great Britain and Ukraine are short-handed, they should not be disregarded.
While naturalised American Matt Lojeski will miss the EuroBasket due to injury, Casteels can still count on van Rossom giving his backcourt a solid foundation, with plenty of depth in the shape of Jonathan Tabu and Roel Moors. At small forward, the Congo-born duo of Wen Mukubu and Jean-Marc Mwema can combine while Hervelle is a proven force.
"My own concern is at center," said Casteels at the outset of training camp when, behind Christophe Beghin, he was forced to wish that Yannick Driesen would recover from injury in time for the tournament, as well as resolving paperwork issues with Mukubu.
In past years, he would have counted on veteran Tomas van den Spiegel but the long-time servant of the national team has opted for retirement this summer following Oostende's triumph in the Ethias League Championship. His absence will leave a huge hole.
But, it is hoped, reinforcements will soon arrive to take his place. In recent years, Belgium has emerged as one of the growing forces of youth basketball in Europe, with their junior and cadet women reaching European finals and their next generation of men just coming short of promotion into Division A of the U20 European Championship, finishing fourth in Pitesti earlier this summer.
Their development system is earning praise and admiration. A bright future, seemingly, beckons. But what the young hopefuls need most are role models who have demonstrated their ability on the international stage. In order to deliver that, the Lions are out to bare their teeth and pull together some pride.