|Playing against his former team-mates in Antwerp was an emotional affair for Maxime De Zeeuw |
By Dimitris Kontos
Maxime De Zeeuw never thought FIBA Europe Cup Group P would come to this: his team, CEZ Nymburk, are playing on Wednesday their last card against the club where he took a giant leap in his career, Port of Antwerp Giants.
"All we can do is take care of our game and then hope and pray that [Lukoil Academic] Sofia beats Ventspils," the Belgian international laid out the only scenario which would see Nymburk advance to the Round of 16.
De Zeeuw spent two fantastic seasons at the Giants, earning Belgian Player of the Year honours in the Scooore! League and a fixed spot on the Belgian national team during his spell in Antwerp.
He is thankful that the crucial Wednesday game takes place in Bohemia and not in Flanders.
"It was more special when we played in Antwerp because I met the fans, I met the people of the club, I met friends, my ex-team-mates and I played against a coach who used to be my team-mate, Roel Moors," De Zeeuw explained.
"It's not that I wanted to prove anything but I was nervous, I wanted to do well.
"It was not an easy situation mentally, it was emotionally charged.
"Since we are playing at home on Wednesday, all I am going to be thinking is that we need to win."
|"If we don't make it to the next round, we have nobody else to blame but ourselves."|
HOW DID WE COME TO THIS?
Nymburk were never supposed to find themselves in this do-or-die predicament.
The perennial Czech champions were considered to be among the favourites in the FIBA Europe Cup and they are the best non-Russian team in the VTB United League standings.
"This is our fault, 100%," De Zeeuw stated in no uncertain terms.
"If we don't make it to the next round, we have nobody else to blame but ourselves.
"We had the chance to win in Antwerp and in Sofia but we were really soft, without energy.
"We watched the video the day after and we didn't recognise ourselves.
"I believe that if we had played in the FIBA Europe Cup the same way we play in the VTB, we would have already advanced."
Competing in both the VTB United League and the FIBA Europe Cup involves sometimes extraordinarily long flights.
But the Belgian power forward denies this as an excuse for Nymburk's lack of energy in midweek games.
"We are professionals, we should be above that," he said.
"The staff and the coach organise every detail so we get as much rest as possible, so tiredness is not an excuse.
"Maybe the reason is mental because when you beat a team like Nizhny Novgorod in the VTB at the weekend, you somehow think that the midweek game in Europe is going to be easy.
"But that is never the case, there is no such thing as an easy game at this level."
"I watch a lot of games, I have seen almost all the teams and I really believe we are much better than this.
"I actually believe we are among the eight best teams in this competition.
"But if you don't play like you are supposed to be playing, then you simply don't deserve to be there.
"You have to earn it."
|Playing abroad has helped De Zeeuw to grow as a player and a person|
A DIFFERENT PLAYER
It is not even a couple of years since De Zeeuw left Antwerp to join Virtus Roma (his previous team prior to Nymburk), but the Belgian forward feels today completely different to the player who made a name at Lotto Arena.
"I have become a much calmer person, when I was younger I was a little bit crazier," De Zeeuw said laughingly.
"I've had my son, I became a father and that changed my life and by extension it changed also my game on the court, now I think how I can do things the smart way."
It is not however only the inevitable process of maturity that makes De Zeeuw a different player today.
"Leaving Belgium and going to play abroad makes you exit your comfort zone," he explained.
"When you play in your country you don't have so much pressure, you know that even if you play a bad game your position on the roster is more or less secure.
"But when you are not a local everybody expects more from you and that helps you to grow.
"You play a bad game and you wake up the next morning thinking that you have to do things better, to show that they were right to bring me here.
"Beyond that, obviously the VTB United League and the Italian Serie A are a step higher than the Belgian league.
"But I think that there is at least one Belgian team, Telenet Oostende, which has the level to compete in either of these competitions."