The Ethias league is the Belgium’s first division. You would not say this due to the lack of Belgium players. Because of this problem the league made a rule, that obligated teams to put at least 4 Belgium players on the game sheet. This rule didn’t change much because foreign players with Belgium passport sometimes fill-up the roster.
Another flow in the league is that there are only 9 teams. Last year there were 10 but Basketball club Bree didn’t make the financial requirements that are necessary to stay in the first league. Because of this problem, the Belgium league is negotiating with the Dutch league the make a so-called ‘BENEliga’. They hope to get this ready for next year. With only nine teams, the league decided that it would be better that there is no chance of relegation. Teams from a lower division can get in the league but no one was really interested because of huge financial risks.
Although there are huge flaws the league itself is pretty good. Belgian teams can beat most teams in the region which gives the league, 2 Eurocup spots and 2 Eurocup challenge spots. For a Euroleague spot it is still too early. The league isn’t stable enough and probably not good enough too.
The Antwerp Diamond Giants is the team in Belgium that will give the highest amount of minutes to Belgium players. A big factor in that decision is the coach Eddy Casteels who is the current coach of the Belgium Lions. In his team he has 7 Belgian players: Christophe Beghin, Yves Dupont, Thomas Lamot, Alexander Lichodjzewski, Randy Oveneke, Lee Wouters and a young player. They added four American players: Bryan Lynch (husband of former tennis player Kim Clijsters), Brandon Gay, Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Black. Dutch center Nick Oudendag fills up the roster. After a bad season with many substitutions during the season, Antwerp looks to bounce back. Their ambition is the play-offs.
Generali Okapi Aalstar is an upcoming team in the league. It’s not a big budget club but it gets it good performances out of quality scouting team is well balanced and plays with six Belgian players: Piet Debel, the two brothers Fouceart and upcoming talent Jorn Steinbach. They added 6 American players: fan favourite Pablo Gonzales, Damian Cantrell, Trevor Huffman and his brother Damon Huffman and Matt Lojeski. The team also added the Cameroonian Pelle. Their ambition is also the play-offs and that shouldn’t be a problem for this well balanced team of a coach Brad Dean. The biggest problem for Aalstar will be to stay healthy which they haven’t done in the preseason.
The next team to discus is Base Oostende. This team has the third or second highest budget in the league. Last year the team played well in the ULEB Cup and advanced out of a though group with Dynamo Moscow, Red Star Belgrade and Fortitudo Bologna and finished second in that group. Now Oostende is looking to prove themselves once again. For that they signed American players Matt Hairyasz, Mike Bauer, Jimmy Baxter and Rashid Atkins. Young Serbian talents Ivan Paunic (watch out for this guy!) and Slobodan Ljubotina were also signed. Belgium national team players Lionel Bosco and Sebastien Bellin were also signed. Three point specialist Kris Sergeant also signed and fan favourite Veselin Petrovic stayed with the club. The coach is Vlade Vukovic. Oostendes ambition is to win a title: either the cup or the championship. During last three years, they won a title every year but this year it might be hard.
Dexia Mons Haunait is also a big budget team. They are coached by the American Chris Finch who brought a lot of countrymen with him: Elton Nesbitt, Ben Ebong (double pass), Mike Lenzley (double pass), Caleb Green, Travis Conlan, Nate Reinking (double pass), Kevin Torbert, James Potter (double pass) and Adam Hall. With this team Mons hopes to become Belgium champion. Mons certainly has enough fire-power to reach this goal. The team has 3 Belgium players where Niels Marnegreave is one of so there are not many Belgium minutes to be expected. They let go of fan favourite George Evans who went to Trier. The Mons fans are very passionate and are known for their great atmosphere. Last year was a tough year for Dexia Mons: they lost the Belgium Cup and the FIBA Europe Eurocup finals in one week. Look for them to be again very successful in Europe and in the league.
Spirou Charleroi was last years champion and hopes to repeat. After letting go Eddy Casteels and signing the Croatian Drazen Anzulovic, they haven’t lost a league match and that says a lot about their new coach (and about the old one). The team still maintains its core: Len Matela, Wes Wilkinson, Jerry Johnson, Andre Riddick and Justin Hamilton, Belgium point guard Jonathan Tabu stayed. They signed Dwayne Broyles, Mladen Sekularac, Pankracije Barac and Jure Lalic Charleroi also brought back Sacha Massot who was on loan in Pepinster. I should also mention that they signed Gerrit Major but his minutes will probably be very limited. Charleroi has the biggest budget in the league and this is shown in their roster. They have the most professional players: some players are even loaned out to another first division team. Charleroi should do well in the Eurocup but you have to wonder if they should buy so many professional players. They could have bought fewer players and buy even more talented players.
Verviers Pepinster is a team in financial trouble. The last couple of years they had some problems with getting their licence to stay in the first division but although they had problems, their scouting was extremely well. Players like Justin Gray, Greg Brunner, Veselin Petrovic … all went to bigger clubs. This year they bought: Duane Erwin, Adrian Banks, Sasa Mucic, Vladimir Anzulovic and Marcus Dove. Talented point guard Anthony Chada is on loan from Charleroi. Munda Hockins, Maxim De Zeeuw and Aleksander Zecevic stayed loyal to the club. Jurgen van Meerbeeck wil coach the team. Pepinster biggest ambition will probably be getting a licence for playing in the league next year.
Optima Gent Dragons plays for the second year in the first division, last year they finished last but this year they will try to change that. The team signed Belgium players: Senne Geukens and Damien Loubry. And resigned Krikemans but due to injury he might have to be replaced. Hans van Langehove was also resigned. The team also kept Ike Oefougbu and Brandon Freeman. They signed a couple of new American players: Kelvin Melson, Graham Brown, Monwel Randle and Jesse Kimbourg. They well be coached by Eric Rogiers, a Belgium coach who has yet to prove himself. The big problem for Gent is their few fans. The clubs hopes to gain more fans by having a good mix of Belgium and American players.
Leuven is a already a couple of years in the league, but still they are a low-level team. They ha one very successful year but on the exception of a couple good players like Dror Hajaj, Kevin Houston and Tremmel Darden, their scouting hasn’t been that good. Although you have to give them some credit because low-level teams tent to get overambitious and spent money they don’t have but Leuven always managed to stay healthy. This year Leuven plays with Belgiums like Jef vanderjonckheyd, Wim Vuchelen and young point guard Idris Lasisi. Allthough they are with few, the Belgiums will probably get their minutes. There are different nationality’s in Leuven: Israeli: Yizhaq Ohanon; Cameroon: Parfait Bite and Herve Djoumbi; Lithuania: Raimondas Petrauskas: Nigeria: Sani Ibrahim and of course American: Darren Fells, James Miller and Demario Anderson. The club wants to be more ambitious and the signing of coach Ivan Skelin is probably a move in the right direction.
Liege basket is a mid-level team in the Belgium league. Last year they surprised everyone by signing scoring shooting guard Andre Emmet. This year they made a almost totally new team. Only coach Tom Johnson, Larry Owens and talent Xavier Collete stayed. The team will play with almost only American players: Justin Cage, Erik Poole, Jamar Wilson, Jerald Fields and Chris Hill. The team is a good mix of players who know the league and players who are new. Jamar Wilson was last year the best player in Pepinster and rebound specialist Eric Poole already played two years for Aalstar. Liège will also try to do good in Europe but because this is such a new team, it’s hard to make a prediction.
Most teams, scout in Germany, France and college basketball. But the Poland and the Adriatic league are watched carefully.
By now you should realize that there are a lot of American players in the Belgium league and that although the league has some huge problems, the basketball level isn’t bad at all. The Belgium league is actually a very good preparation for the better leagues in Europe: Belgium clubs have gotten lots of players who made it in Europe or in the NBA. Rimantas Kaukenas, Mirza Teletovic, Matt Walsh, Tomas Van Den Spiegel, Didier Mbenga, JR Holden, Quinton Ross, Michael Batiste, D’or Fischer, … All played in the Belgium league before moving to a big club.
My prediction (roughly) is that Charleroi, Mons, Oostende and Aalstar will be in the first four spots, Liège and Antwerp will fight for the fifth and sixth spot and Leuven, Pepinster and Gent will play for seven till nine. The main candidate for the title is Charleroi.
The league starts Saturday.