|Lionel Bosco is currently averaging five points and 4.8 assits in the FIBA Europe Cup|
By Dimitris Kontos
In Italian, Bosco means forest and this 1.75m playmaker has always needed to negotiate his way through a forest of seemingly endless bodies and arms in order to compete in this sport.
It took him longer than the norm to debut in the Belgian top flight but, with the perseverance of a patient gardener who overcomes the limitations of the terrain, he managed to get there at the age 22 and never looked back, playing for a string of Scooore! League clubs and becoming a senior international at 26.
By his own admission, he is possibly enjoying the best year of his career right now.
It is, paradoxically, the same year that saw him reach the age of 34.
"I have never been the most talented player out there, but I think I am one of the players who has worked the most," Bosco explained his secret to fibaeurope.com
"I was there to work before practice, put shots up after practice and never complained about work.
"Maybe that has been my strength, never complaining about anything, doing my job and seeking extra work.
"Throughout my career I have kept thinking that I need to improve and that if I improve myself, the team also improves."
|Bosco on playing at EuroBasket 2015: "I consider it a gift for all the work I put in for the national team."|
But how can a professional athlete still maintain at the age of 34, when their body is more battered than anybody else's on the team, the discipline this kind of work ethic requires?
"Every day is a new day and I wake up and tell myself 'ok let's go have two good practices today, let's give everything'," Bosco said.
"To get up knowing that I can go to practice, or that I will get to play a game, still makes me very happy.
"I spoke a lot a with [Mons-Hainaut] coach Yves Defraigne since arriving at the team last year and he told me that every single day you have to remind yourself that the only way to get better is through practice.
"We always say in basketball that you play like you practice and it is true.
"If you practice with intensity, with smartness, it will show in your game and you can always improve at any age, even at 34.
"I am talking a lot with the young guys on the team and I am trying to transmit my experience.
"I would like to make them understand that talent by itself is not enough.
"As Belgium head coach Eddy Casteels always says, and as I say to these kids all the time: Hard work beats talent."
Sometimes, hard work gets rewarded.
And even if the prize lies a long road ahead, someone as persistent as Bosco would not stop walking until he got there.
|Eddy Casteels recalled Bosco to the Belgium national for the EuroBasket qualifiers last year and handed him a Final Round debut in September|
Last September, coach Casteels included the veteran point guard in the final Belgian squad for EuroBasket 2015 and Bosco, the very same month he turned 34, got to play in his first ever major tournament.
"It was really great, it was one of the best feelings I ever had or will have in my career," the Mons-Hainaut playmaker said.
"I consider it a gift for all the work I put in for the national team because I played for a lot of years and I was cut from the squad twice before the EuroBasket.
"When a lot of younger players were injured last year [during the qualification campaign] the coach called me back and I was very happy to return to the team.
"I think that because I proved then that at the age of 33 I could still play at that level, he gave me this big opportunity to play at the EuroBasket this year.
"The EuroBasket does not compare to anything because you get to play against the best players in Europe and some of the best in the world.
It was the third consecutive EuroBasket appearance for a core of Belgian players who are fast approaching or are already over 30 now, but Bosco is optimistic this was not the nation's last big chance to do well at a EuroBasket.
|Emmanuel Lecomte is considered one of the brightest talents of Belgian basketball|
"So I think there are a lot of guys there that could step up to the senior team when this generation retires because let's face it, Sam [Van Rossom] or Axel [Hervelle] are not going to play 10 more years.
"I think Manu Lecomte, who also played with us a little bit in the summer (the young point guard who made the U20 All-Star Five was on Belgium's preliminary squad for EuroBasket 2015), already has a lot of experience and he is maybe the future of the national team."
It is obvious that if he were to receive another call by coach Casteels to play for the national team one last time Bosco would accept in a heartbeat.
But in the meantime, he is focused on helping Mons-Hainaut having a successful season both domestically and on the European front.
Their first challenge is to make it to the Round of 32 of the FIBA Europe Cup and they will achieve that goal in case they win one of their two remaining games in Group A, against ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne or against Donar Groningen.
"When we discussed the team's goals at the beginning of the season we said we have to go to the Round of 32 and of course after that it will depend on which teams we have to play," Bosco said.
"All the teams you play in the FIBA Europe Cup are among the best teams in their country so you have to take every game very seriously, you cannot think that by just showing up you will win the game.
"Sometimes in the national league you play against a so-to-speak weaker team, but that does not happen in the FIBA Europe Cup.
"In European games, everything is faster, players are generally quicker, every action, every decision is executed in a shorter amount of time.
"I think that we are more mature as a team and as players than last year, when we made the Last 16 of the EuroChallenge.
"If everybody plays as seriously as we are supposed to, we should make it."
|Bosco appreciates the player-friendly environment at Belfius Mons-Hainaut|
ASVEL are one of the six teams in the FIBA Europe Cup that still march unbeaten, having won all four games by an ample margin, but Bosco believes Mons-Hainaut have options against the French side at home next week.
"They left me a very good impression when we played them there (in Lyon-Villeurbanne)," Bosco admits.
"I am not saying I think ASVEL will go all the way, but for sure it looks like they will go far in the competition.
"None the less, last year we beat another French team, JSF Nanterre, at home and we all know that Nanterre went on to win the EuroChallenge."
Whatever success ends up coming Mons' way this season, it will be the product of an approach by the club as methodical as the one that Bosco has strived to follow trough his career.
"I would say that in Mons everything is perfect," the veteran Belgian international offered.
"I say that because the club does everything with the players in mind.
"We have a great gym, a weight room inside the gym, an excellent medical staff taking care of us.
"Plenty of players, especially Americans, aim to show themselves in the Belgian championship and use the opportunity to go to great clubs.
"So the whole organisation at Mons revolves around the players, it makes it easier for the player to work."
And work as hard as they can, of course, even at 34.
Because there comes an age when you realise hard work beats talent.