|Worthy De Jong and ZZ Leiden travelled well last time out in the EuroChallenge in 2012, making it as far as the Second Round|
Returning to the top tier of Dutch basketball in 2006, ZZ Leiden underwent a meteoric rise to consistently become one of the Netherlands' leading teams. One of the pillars of that success is Worthy De Jong.
The Toon Factor
Proudly draped from the rafters of Vijf Meihal, Leiden's home arena, are the 1978, 2011, 2013 Dutch Championship banners; 2010 and 2012 Dutch Cup banners; and 2011 and 2012 Dutch SuperCup banners.
De Jong, who has been part of the team that is responsible for five of those seven banners, explains what it is that has led to so much recent success for the picturesque Dutch city, claiming, "For the past couple of years we have always had a good team that vibes of each other really well.
"Coach [Toon van Helfteren] always makes that happen," he adds, heaping the praise on his club and national team coach.
"He puts together people that have talent, that hard work mentality and besides that, also have a great mentality to work with each other.
Van Helfteren (video here), the most capped Dutch international player of all time, has been instrumental in getting the club where he formerly played back amongst the Dutch basketball elite.
"As you can see there are so many banners hanging down [from the rafters] from the time I have been here and I have to thank coach for giving me the opportunity and giving all the other players the opportunity to make it happen," says De Jong, with an obvious respect for van Helfteren.
Strong On The Court, Strong Off It
De Jong also contributes his team's trophy run since 2010 to the solidarity which exists within the club.
"It is a combination of things, perhaps most importantly team chemistry.
"In the first two/three years, we had a team that stuck together. We did not really switch up too many players so we had people that knew how to play our game how coach wanted it so I think that brought us a lot of success."
Away from the court, the two-time Dutch All Star claims that the chemistry is just as strong.
"I think that if you are really good with everybody off the court then it is so much easier to play for each other on the court.
"You can just lay everything on the floor and leave it there.
"I think that is why we have been so successful for the past couple of years. We just work really hard.
Preparing For The Bright Lights Of Europe
|De Jong also represents the Netherlands under club coach, and former Dutch national team legend, Toon Van Helfteren|
Wanting it bad does not only refer to domestic success, but also in wider Europe, where the level of competition will be considerably higher when ZZ Leiden venture on their 2013/14 EuroChallenge campaign.
"Two years ago when we last played the EuroChallenge we made it to the Second Round and that was something big," says the forward remembering back to 2011.
Then aged 23, De Jong consistently clocked over 20 minutes-a-night, averaging 7.8 points-a-game, whilst finishing the competition ranked seconds in steals, with 1.8 an-outing.
"I think with this team we helped put Dutch basketball on the map and everybody can and will be successful if they want it as bad we did.
"The travelling is fun and doing it with the team and with people that you know - you help each other and you help grow together.
"It helped us during the [domestic] season and made us a better team.
"It is another challenge for you to prove and learn by playing against these teams from different countries."
De Jong acknowledges, that if Leiden are now going to replicate that run, there are some obstacles that they need to overcome, but has no doubt that his team will grow stronger from the opportunity.
"We are now a slightly younger team in terms of age and in terms of experience so a lot of the season will come down to how bad we want it."
"EuroChallenge is going to be tough, especially for the younger kids and the travelling - it is something new for them but I am hoping that it will be a great experience for them and make them grow.
"I make myself grow too.
"I love playing outside Holland because it is always a challenge and that is something I am looking forward too."