Belgium Command Respect

20 August 2013

EUROBASKET 2013

Antwerp head coach Eddy Casteels
Belgium head coach Eddy Casteels could be very satisfied with his team's defensive display in recent preparation games

For several months after the EuroBasket 2013 Draw took place last autumn, Belgium kept flying under the radar of pretty much every other team, player or coach involved in Group A of the big event.

Belgium's First Round group includes EuroBasket 2011 silver medallists France, Germany, Israel, Ukraine and Great Britain and the Benelux country never seemed to be included in the mix whenever conversation shifted to the contenders for the top three spots, that lead to the next phase of the tournament.

It was not an unfounded omission, as Belgium's best-ever finish at a EuroBasket was a fourth spot in the post-war edition of 1947 and when the nation returned to the Final Round in Lithuania in 2011, they lost all of their games and finished in 21st place.

Belgium were aware of this and totally comfortable with the role of the underdog, but this does not mean that they planned to fly to Slovenia just to see the sights.

"It's better like that, if everyone underrates us we have more chances of winning games," power forward Axel Hervelle had told fibaeurope.com in an interview.

When Belgium fell relatively easily to Lithuania in back-to-back warm-up games at the beginning of August, Hervelle's cautious optimism could have been dismissed as simply enthusiastic talk by someone who is excited to play at the first EuroBasket of his career.

But then last Saturday, a Belgian back-court comprising of Sam Van Rossom, Jonathan Tabu and Matthew Lojeski fired a combined 47 points past Italy and helped Belgium clinch a 75-67 victory over the Azzurri on the opening day of a friendly tournament in Antwerp.

It was an important victory to the morale of the team and the 2,200-strong crowd at Lotto Arena, as Belgium had kept Marco Belinelli, Luigi Datome and co. to just 24 second-half points.

"It was not a surprise," Belgium head coach Eddy Casteels exclaimed.

"I knew that our team is capable of such defensive displays.

"These guys play for each other constantly but still, believe me, to limit such an opponent to just 24 points is quite an achievement."

Belgium lost to Poland on the second day, but the Poles represent perhaps the most glaring case of an underrated side, that prepares methodically to stun everyone at EuroBasket 2013 and Casteels with his players were not taken aback.

5. Sam Van Rossom (Belgium)
Sam Van Rossom is among the 12 players to represent Belgium at EuroBasket in Slovenia

On Monday, the Belgians were facing Israel on the third and final day of the tournament in an encounter that carries special psychological significance, as the two teams will face off on 8 September at the EuroBasket.

Star forwards Omri Casspi and Lior Eliyahu started off brilliantly for Israel and gave their team an 18-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.

But then the Belgian defence that Casteels warned about began to shift into motion and the hosts turned the five-point deficit into a seven-point advantage by half-time, and kept pushing hard until claiming a 77-59 win.

Lojeski was not even in the 12-man squad this time to be given some rest, but Belgium were led this time on offence by big man Sacha Massot, who collected 15 points, while Van Rossom finished with 11 points.

After the end of the encounter, Casteels decided he needed to bolster his frontcourt and asked Maxime De Zeeuw to re-join the squad in preparations.

The 27-year-old De Zeeuw can play at both the "4" and "5" spot and he was Belgium's leading rebounder at EuroBasket 2011, as well during last summer's Qualification Round.

His inclusion comes at the expense of a backcourt player, 23-year-old point guard Quentin Serron.

Belgium's preliminary squad for EuroBasket 2013 is now down to 12 men and will not be modified any further until the tournament, except in the event of an injury.

It includes Christophe Beghin, Sacha Massot, Yannick Driesen, Axel Hervelle, Matthew Lojeski, Roel Moors, Wen Mukubu, Guy Muya, Jean Marc Mwema, Jonathan Tabu, Sam Van Rossom and Maxime De Zeeuw.


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