Playing for pride is still a big thing in basketball, especially for the Lions, a team not expected to reach the second round here in Ljubljana. They have picked up three wins overall, and they have done so without any naturalised players.
For Belgium’s Wen Mukubu, who has averaged 8.3 points and 3.5 rebounds a contest, pride counted for everything in this match and it was important to the players to leave on a high.
“It’s a great feeling for everybody,” Mukubu said. “If we didn’t win this one, we would have gone home with all losses in the second round and our last win would have been from a long time ago so just to leave out of here with a win is a great feeling and everybody’s happy.
“We’re not satisfied, but just to leave out of here with a win, I think that will make some of our people happy, and for us, definitely happy.”
Belgium’s progression in this tournament will have their fans boarding flights back to Brussels with a positive outlook on how far their national team has come in two years. In Lithuania, they finished with a 0-5 record and arrived in Slovenia with many thinking they would finish with possibly the same record.
Instead, they have competed here in Slovenia, more than living up to their moniker of the Lions. Victories over Germany and Great Britain paved the way for them to advance to the second round. In the end it proved too much but unlike two years ago.
The vital win over Great Britain in the group stages virtually sealed their spot in the second phase, Mukubu knew before the tournament started that there would be no easy games but at the same time, Belgium had nothing to lose. They just wanted to go out there and play with freedom. They knew what they were capable of.
“At Eurobasket, no game is easy for anybody and anything can happen on any given day,” Mukubu said. “Some people say that ‘we didn’t deserve to be here’, well if we didn’t win any games we wouldn’t be here. No other team played any game for us, we did this ourselves and getting three wins here is all that matters to us.
“We can no doubt leave a happy team, knowing we played our hardest, and with the knowledge that we made it hard for our opponents.”
And indeed Belgian basketball domestically is a huge part of the national team’s success. Nine of the 12 players earn their living in Belgium, teams from the Belgian league compete in Europe most seasons, whether it is in the Euroleague or Eurocup and Mukubu is adamant that things can only get better.
“People I think underestimate the Belgian league overall,” he states.
“We came out here today, knowing this would be our last game of the tournament, and along the way we have beaten some great basketball nations, and we have done this with no naturalized players and despite us going out, we still showed that Belgian basketball has talent.”
Mukubu, along with his team-mates now head back home to prepare for the domestic season. Lessons learned plus new experiences that will hopefully make them better and importantly wiser players than when they came in.
“No doubt, this Eurobasket has made us individually better in one way or another,” Mukubu states.
“Now we got to focus on the new season, and be mentally prepared so that we can be at our best.”
Courtesy of FIBA Europe’s Mark Woods, a look behind the scenes of the Belgium national team throughout the second round in Ljubljana.
Picture courtesy of FIBA Europe.