Blogging Through Europe (Part I: Belgium)

Blogging Through Europe (Part I: Belgium)
Nov 25, 2007, 06:37 pm
Traveling through Europe for the next few weeks, watching games, taking in practices, meeting with teams, players and other people in the basketball industry, I’ll attempt to keep a log of some of my thoughts from the different stops on the road and keep you posted on how the draft prospects I’m watching look. My first stop on the road was to visit friends in the Southern part of Belgium—Liege-- and watch practices of two first division teams and a game between them.

The Belgian League

The Belgian “Ethias” league is a strange one indeed, at least from an identity perspective. To give you an example, I attended two practices of separate teams on Friday, Belgacom Liege Basket, and RBC Verviers-Pepinster. One is coached by a Canadian, Tom Johnson, while the other gets it’s instructions from a Croatian, Ivica Skelin. The two coaches start a grand total of one Belgian player between them. Four Americans, one Serbian and two Belgians make up the core of Pepinster’s rotation, while Liege mostly revolves around the production of four Americans and one Cameroonian in the starting lineup, with two Canadian players coming off the bench.

We’re not talking about a rare situation in this league, or its neighbors in Germany, where the lack of local talent is even pronounced. More than anywhere else in Europe, these leagues live and die with what they can get out of their import players.

A Samba Gueye Sighting

Draftniks circa 2002 might remember an African prospect named Samba Gueye, once hyped as a major NBA prospect by the website He was described back then on the site as “the best prospect out of Senegal EVER.” Chad Ford of ESPN Insider covered him when he attended the NBA Africa 100 camp, and put a proper perspective on where he stands as a prospect.

Gueye was committed to play USC at that time, but that obviously never happened. Gueye played in France over the last few years with Chalon, but really never stepped on the court for a senior-level match, only seeing 2 ½ minutes of total playing time last season. He’s suffered injury problems that are still hampering him, and continue to keep him out of the lineup even here. Liege recently signed him to a two year contract.

We got to watch Gueye practice on Friday, and you could very clearly see why people were excited about him when he was supposedly 15, as well as why he is an extreme long shot to hear his named called when he becomes draft eligible in June 2009 as a 1987 born prospect.

In a nutshell, Gueye is a 6-10, long and skinny big man, with incredibly raw skills. Reportedly a freak athlete (it was hard to tell in this setting, plus he is still injured), Gueye actually has really nice touch all the way out to about 18 feet. His shot takes a fairly long time to get off, but features a high release point, and he can even put the ball on the floor a bit when he’s not being contested. He has very little in the ways of post moves and no left hand to speak of, and also is still far from being physically developed. Once he was placed in more competitive settings, for example a basic 3 on 2 transition drill, you could see his lack of experience come out, as everything just seemed to move too fast for him on the floor. Liege is wisely planning on sending him down to the Belgian second division, where he can enjoy significant playing time and be able learn from making mistakes on the court.

Gueye is just another in a long line of examples why we’ve become so incredibly skeptical of big man African prospects, especially ones who come out of nowhere seemingly with a tremendous amount of hype. Besides Mutombo and Olajuwon (each unique cases in their own right), you’d be hard pressed to find another Africa player who has actually succeeded in the NBA. With the dozens of prospects we’ve seen fizzle over the past few years and many more sure to come, it’s hard not to get cynical sometimes, as dangerous as unfair as that might sound. For a player like Gueye, though, it might not be too late as far as making a career in Europe is concerned.

Pepinster defeats Liege

We got to see a game as well, as Pepinster defeated Liege 62-52. 2007 America East player of the year Jamar Wilson (recommended by yours truly) starred, scoring 24 points, while shooting 9/11 from the field, and dishing out 3 assists. The rookie is currently leading the Belgian league in scoring at over 20 points a game, despite his team suffering serious financial issues. There was a nice atmosphere in the gym, and we definitely have received nothing by first-class treatment so far.

Things that Amused Me:

-Coaches driving around in NASCAR style cars plastered in advertisements everywhere.
-Players acting as human advertisements themselves, with the most important ad saved for their read ends.
-Two huge fluffy beer cans (the team’s sponsor) walking around the arena waving at people and handing out hugs.
-Men with fabulous mullets everywhere kissing each other on the cheek.
-A press conference with four journalists, free Jupiler beer, great chocolate, and no questions for the coach.

Next up: Spirou Charleroi (ULEB cup game vs. Girona)

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