|Despite facing the EuroChallenge reigning champions in a do-or-die game next week, De Zeeuw insists he will not be intimidated by Krasnye Krylia |
By Dimitris Kontos
Port of Antwerp Giants are facing a do-or-die contest on the road against Krasnye Krylia on Tuesday, with the victor claiming the spoils of a berth in the EuroChallenge quarter-final play-offs.
Krasnye Krylia are the reigning EuroChallenge champions and have the advantage of playing this decisive Group Last 16 Group I game in Samara.
Make no mistake though, while Antwerp are full of respect for Sergey Bazarevich's side, they will not even blink at the chance to knock the trophy holders out of the competition.
"We don't think about whether they are the champions or anything like that, we just think that we are going to play a really strong team on their home court and we have to try to do everything we can to beat them and qualify to the quarter-finals," Maxime De Zeeuw, Antwerp's leader in this EuroChallenge campaign, told fibaeurope.com.
The Belgian international is nursing a knee injury but confirmed that he "will definetely be there" for the decisive battle in Samara.
De Zeeuw has analysed extensively the lessons learned from the reverse fixture in late January, when Krasnye Krylia won 75-71 in Antwerp.
"I think we lost at home against them because of our bad start to the game," the 26-year-old power forward explains.
"They scored really easily in the first quarter (Samara jumped to a 21-11 lead) and we basically only played well in the second half, but we still only lost by four.
"Now we have got to win over there, and I think we are able to do it.
"They are of course an experienced team with good players.
"Even though they lost [Anton] Ponkrashov, they still have players like [Filip] Videnov, [Demetris] Nichols and [Michal] Ignerski.
"So there is no doubt it's going to be a very tough game."
|Maxime De Zeeuw is cherishing his second season in the EuroChallenge with the Antwerp Giants|
THE MORE THE MERRIER
The Giants find themselves within one step of the EuroChallenge quarter-finals this season, while last year they exited the competition at the end of the First Round.
They owe a great part of this improvement to the transformation of De Zeeuw, who has almost tripled his numbers this season.
The Belgian big man has already collected four double-double performances in the competition as he averages a team-high 14.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, up from 5.3 points and 2.8 rebounds last year, his first at the club.
"I think I am playing better now both because of confidence and adapting in the second season," De Zeeuw explains.
"[During] the first year it was a little bit difficult to adjust and I was not playing very well, and now this year it's been easier with the coaching staff and my teammates.
"I receive a lot of balls so I can play, I shoot the ball with more confidence, and it feels good to know that every one on the team has confidence in you."
For De Zeeuw, who spent most of his career at Verviers-Pepinster and has never played for a club outside Belgium, the EuroChallenge campaign is valuable even if it comes with some inevitable wear and tear to him and his teammates, which has been reflected in some unfortunate results lately in
the Belgian Ethias League.
"It's a good experience to play in a European competition, it's always nice to visit other countries and other cities," the big man said.
"It's also important to play against teams from other leagues and different styles and see the way they play.
"I'd rather have two games a week than always play only in the league."
BELGIUM'S ON-COURT CHALLENGES
|The Belgian international believes that F.Y.R. of Macedonia will carry the favouritism tag into this summer's 2nd Qualification Round|
De Zeeuw has been a senior international since 2008 and followed closely the draw for EuroBasket 2015 2nd Qualification Round next summer, which placed Belgium in Group D, together with F.Y.R. of Macedonia, Belarus and Denmark.
"Like they say, F.Y.R. of Macedonia is the strongest team of the group, especially if they have Bo McCalebb on their roster," De Zeeuw said.
"But we do not underestimate the other two teams, [it's just that] we've never played against Belarus and Denmark and I don't know their players so well.
"So we'll have to be very careful because they can give you trouble, especially when playing away from home.
"I think we have a good chance to advance, but we have got to prove it on the court.
"I hope we will be in full strength and then, we can compete with F.Y.R. of Macedonia too."
De Zeeuw made a second consecutive EuroBasket appearance last September and helped Belgium in their fantastic run to the Second Round of the big tournament in Slovenia.
Can Belgium achieve qualification to the big event once again and could they go the extra mile the third time around?
"I think we have a good future," the Belgian international said.
"We have a really good, almost perfect starting five and we have some good young basketball talent coming up.
"But we need to keep working and prove it, because we also want to show that [reaching the] Second Round at EuroBasket 2013 was not a surprise.
"We have to prove that on the court."
IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL (NOT) COME
|The power forward accepts that basketball will always play second fiddle to a number of other sports - especially football - in Belgium|
De Zeeuw is playing for the club which holds the attendance record in Belgium, having filled up more than 15,500 seats at the Sportpaleis Arena in last season's Ethias League clash with Okapi Aalstar.
There is a sizeable dedicated basketball crowd not only in Antwerp but also in most other cities which have a top-flight club.
The Belgian international however is under no illusions as to the potential wider repercussions a European success by the Giants or the national team will have outside the circle of basketball fans in the country.
No matter what basketball milestone occurs, Belgium will be swept by football fever this summer.
De Zeeuw accepts this fact of life and does not believe it influences basketball players or the progression of the sport in the country.
"What can we do to change that?" he asks rhetorically, "football or tennis and cycling are much more in the media and more widely known.
"We qualified to the Second Round of the EuroBasket and the press in Belgium barely mentioned it.
"I think it's never going to change in Belgium.
"The main sport is football and then tennis, and we are behind them.
"But we don't really need to compete with that.
"It sure would be great to have some support from the media, but we don't need to have that in order to compete."