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 its 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 Pepinsters 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.
Were 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
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. Hes 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 hes 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 weve 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), youd be hard pressed to find another Africa player who has actually succeeded in the NBA. With the dozens of prospects weve seen fizzle over the past few years and many more sure to come, its 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 teams 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)