Van Oostrum Looks Forward To Exciting Summer

29 June 2010
By Paul Nilsen

As the spectacular fiesta in Vitoria only just begins to die down after the thrilling acquisition of another ACB Championship for Caja Laboral, this latest success for the Euroleague side has further fuelled the ambitions of one young British prospect hoping to make it to the very top level.

Whisper it quietly since Great Britain head coach Chris Finch and those at the Basque club might not thank you for it but 17 year-old Devon Van Oostrum could just be a major star in the making. Perhaps also something of a long-term saviour as far as British ball fans are concerned - a set of supporters still dining out on the success of making it to a first EuroBasket in their history but acutely aware of the chronic lack of a quality playmaker.

It isn't the just fans who are excited about the young point-guard. Finch himself has boldly included him in the preparation camp for the senior team although you sense the eagerness of the play-caller to keep expectations under control and also the game of a young man who is used to be being the main attraction at youth level.

"We are excited to be able to include someone with Devon's potential into our program." explained Finch.

"This summer will be mostly a chance for us to evaluate him first-hand and for him to get a feel for his team-mates and how we work."

"We are not putting any undue pressure on him, except that which we expect from all our players.  That is to show up in shape, work hard, be 100% committed and willing to play team basketball."

As for the player himself, well his head is no doubt still spinning. It's been a whirlwind 12 months since his life was turned upside down when he swapped the UK for Northern Spain after signing for one of the biggest teams in European basketball.

On the court Van Oostrum has found himself playing in the lower Spanish leagues during year one, although you sense that as with any other player, a smooth adjustment to life off the court is probably even more important.

The language was probably the biggest problem and the first few months were pretty tough dealing with that, especially in school." claims the guard.

"Now that I've gotten over that hump, I can speak three languages (English, Spanish and Dutch) something that I'll have for the rest of my life."

"I didn't have any problems adjusting to the culture or the people they were all very nice and welcoming."

"As for the basketball side of it, I just came in and played - the first 5 games with 25 points or more."

By his own admission, it has been a massive learning curve. Despite a gruelling schedule of school, practices and games, life in the beautiful region of Alava certainly seems to suit Van Oostrum.

His parents in particular would be proud of the way he speaks after just a year of what could eventually turn out to be a monumental sporting journey.

"I've learnt that I've got to keep working as hard as possible, and be patient." claims Van Oostrum.

"I'm not going to reach my goal in the first year - it's a long process."

"Off the court I am also being more patient and more responsible. I think I've matured a lot in this year having to adjust to living without my parents."

In this aspect, the approach of the club has been impressive. Never easy to keep a smile on the face of a teenager away from home, the little known role of someone behind the scenes is making all of the difference in making sure there is a new sense of home in Vitoria.

"We all have a great time at home and we are always laughing and having fun. Rosa who looks after us is very nice and friendly, treating us like her own children."

Those words will be music to the ears of Van Oostrums father Duco who gave an intriguing insight into the torturous amount of research and deliberation that went into making the decision with Devon to head for Spain. He is well placed to comment on some of the issues facing parents of teenage talents. For his older son Nigel, a player with Great Britain U20's went to the States and it can clearly end up being an agonizing dilemma.

"As parents, the choice is ridiculously difficult. You don't know how much research we did when Devon got the opportunity.  What many parents don't realize is that the Europe versus USA choice is only available to very few players."

"Spain seems only to be interested in players at the very highest level; the US will cater for more varied talent. So when Spain come knocking, it is in effect already a pretty good indication."

"There was a lot to adjust to for him. As parents, I think we underestimated all that a bit."

"What we've come to realize is that the way the USA versus Europe question is phrased a lot is in terms of ‘education v professional'. However, Devon has had an extraordinary education in Spain."

"He now speaks Spanish, becoming trilingual with his English and Dutch, which also ranks up there in terms of academic progress. So the ‘education' v ‘professional' choice is far too simplified."

"The other thing for us as parents that was very important about the Spanish option was the long term vision of the club, both in terms of basketball and academic progress." 

So far, it would seem the choice the family has made is paying dividends. Van Oostrum junior is loving the personal detail being ploughed into his development by Caja Laboral coaches and none more so than Iñaki Iriarte - someone who has a fine tradition of working with the very best such as Calderon, Scola, and Splitter. Equally the Brit is still coming to terms with being so close and yet so far away from top level basketball.

 "The practices are very detailed. I'm doing things that I've never even thought about before I came to Spain."

"The training consists of a lot of specific footwork work and shooting mechanics (and a lot of shouting). I feel genuinely very privileged to have these kind of training sessions and hopefully it will help me get to the top. Sometimes I do forget how big this team is."

"I spend quite a bit of time with the first team players - I did the entire pre-season with them, even playing in the Lleida tournament and have also practiced with them when they needed me."

"Sometimes I go for a meal with them or just do normal activities like playing play-station at one of their houses but on game days it's very hard seeing all those guys play out there at such a high level and all I can do is watch."

"It's something to work towards, whenever I'm training - I think about those great games and how I could be a part of that."

This summer Van Oostrum has to focus on a lot more than just his longer term future. As well as the experience with the senior team, he is also heading to Tel Aviv to try and inspire a promotion to Division A for Great Britain at U18 level.

Last year the guard was pretty much unstoppable for the U16 side, posting huge numbers and making the All Tournament team before being squeezed out by Denmark in the promotion game - something that rankles 12 months later.

"That still hurts. I still think about that Denmark game and how we missed out on promotion. It was nice being recognised as the top point guard there but I would have preferred to have got the promotion. My only focus when playing is to win."

As Van Oostrum continues his development including the pivotal decision due to be made by the club as to where exactly he will be playing during the 2010-11 season, the expectation is likely to grow.

With the spotlight inevitably about to be thrust upon him in earnest, it throws up the question of how this exciting talent will handle it all. However, it doesn't seem there is any need for British fans or indeed Van Oostrum senior to worry - the point guard couldn't be clearer when it comes to mapping out his approach.

"It's nice being recognised as one of the top prospects but that never goes through my mind when playing. So far, I'm just taking it one year at a time and setting short term goals."

"I've worked a lot in the weights room to get an NBA body and I've being seeing the rewards with dunking and bumping off defenders much more easily."

"Obviously the big dream is the NBA but I'm not thinking about that too much. My mind is set on improving whenever given the opportunity."



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