With only 4 teams left competing in the NCAA Tournament it is time to look back at how our Belgian youngsters performed this season in the States. With more and more of our youngsters leaving their families and friends behind to pursue their dream of competing in the several competitions across the ocean - in hopes of becoming the next Retin Obasohan - it is always interesting to see how well they fared.
We'll start off with the guys playing in the big league at the collegiate level:
Without a doubt the best performing Belgian youngster in the States this season was Manu Lecomte. The 1m80 tall Point Guard started his collegiate career with the Miami Hurricanes but decided he wanted to play a bigger role and transferred to Baylor last season. After the inevitable Red-Shirt year in which he was not allowed to play any official games he finally debuted for Baylor this season and immediately showed what he was capable off by dropping a 13 point & 10 assists Double-Double in the season opener in the win against Oral Roberts. Although that would remain his only Double-Double of the season, Lecomte was far from finished and continued to impress the league and fans with his floor-leading qualities and his scoring prowess. When all was said and done Lecomte helped the Baylor Bears to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament where they were eventually defeated by South Carolina. He ended up averaging 11.9 ppg, 4.1 apg & 1.8 rpg in 30.1 mpg in 26 games, while shooting a very solid 40% from behind the arc and 83.9% from the charity stripe over the course of the season and recorded a new career high in a victory against Xavier in which he scored 24 pts on 8-14 FG shooting (6-9 from behind the arc) and also added 5 assists.
In the process Lecomte received several accolades and was selected as the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year as well as being voted into the All-Big 12 Third Team. With one more year left at Baylor it will be interesting to see if Lecomte can confirm his excellent season and maybe even improve on it. All in all I do believe it is safe to say we can expect him to have a solid career in a top European competition once he graduates.
The second best performing Belgian youngster in the NCAA was (somewhat unexpectedly) Dion Wade from the Miami RedHawks. The 1m98 tall SG/SF just finished his second year with Miami after initially starting his collegiate career with Auburn. Much like last season Wade frequently received the starting nod for them and put down a pretty solid all-rounded performance, especially helping out a lot on the boards. When all was said and done Wade recorded fairly similar numbers as last season and averaged 3.4 ppg, shooting 47.1 % from 2pt range, 33.3% from 3pt range & 61.9% from the FT-line, along with 4.0 rpg in 17.9 mpg in 24 games. He reached double figures in rebounding twice this season. In the season-opening win against Muskingum where he grabbed 10 boards to go along with his 4 points and 2 steals. And a second time in a loss @ Wright State where he again grabbed 10 boards along with scoring 7 points in 27 minutes. He had his best performance of the season in a victory against Olivet where he recorded 9 points on 4-7 FG shooting and grabbed 7 rebounds in 19 minutes.
Next up is Thomas Akyazili who - in his second year at Colorado - had a disappointing season in which he saw his minutes drop significantly and along with his minutes also saw his numbers take a serious dive. He still competed in a total of 30 games but only averaged 10.5 mpg in which he recorded 1.7 ppg (with a lousy 1-21 shooting from behind the arc) and added 1.0 rpg & 1.3 apg. We can only hope that Agent Zero - as he was dubbed last season - will regain his strides next year and fulfill a much bigger role on the team*. Akyazili had his best performance of the season in the season-opening victory against Sacramento State in which he recorded 8 points (3-5 FG shooting, 2-2 FT's) and added 6 assists. Both season highs. He also dished out 6 assists in a win against Oregon State but only scored 2 points in that game on 1-4 FG shooting.
* In the meantime Akyazili has announced that he will be leaving Colorado and is looking to sign with a pro team in Europe/Belgium.
It was also a very disappointing season for Andy Van Vliet with Wisconsin. After sitting out the entire year last season due to NCAA eligibility rules everyone was hoping that this season would be a game-changer for Van Vliet. Unfortunately it turned out quite differently as he got parked at the end of the bench throughout the entire season and only played very sporadically. And when he played, it was usually only a couple of minutes when the game was already decided. When given the minutes Van Vliet did show that he belonged on the courts though as he showcased in a game against Florida A&M in which he played a season-high 8 minutes and recorded season-highs with 9 points (3-3 from behind the arc, 0-2 from inside the arc) and added 5 rebounds and 2 assists. Unfortunately he too often had to content himself with 1 or 2 minutes playing time and ended the season with averages of 1.3 ppg (shooting 37.5% from 3pt range) & 1.4 rpg in 3.6 mpg in only 14 games. Wisconsin reached the NCAA Tournament and was eventually defeated by Florida in the Sweet 16. Van Vliet did not get any playing time in the tournament.
NCAA2, NAIA & NJCAA:
In his second season at Montana State University (NCAA2) Kamal Tall became the starting center for the Jackets and recorded very solid numbers for the team that after a 3 year hiatus again reached the GNAC Tournament. Tall made tremendous strides in his second year at the university and had his best games at the end of the season, paving the way for what hopefully will be an excellent senior year next season. Tall had his best game of the season in a loss at Concordia where he recorded his first Double-Double of his collegiate career with career-highs in rebounding (10) and scoring (19) in only 20 minutes of action. Overall Tall played 29 games (28 starts) and averaged 6.9 ppg & 5.0 rpg in 18.8 mpg. He didn't just perform well on the court though and was selected to the All-GNAC Academic Team for his excellent work in the classroom.
Alhassan Barrie spent his first season at Goshen College (NAIA) coming off the bench for the team that put down a fairly weak season with a 10-20 overall record. Barrie played all 30 games but saw limited action as he averaged only 14.2 mpg in which he recorded 2.6 ppg & 3.1 rpg. Barrie scored a season-high 7 points in a loss against Indiana Wesleyan on 2-2 FG shooting & 3-3 FT shooting. He had his best overall game of the season in the last game of the season, a loss at Marian University where he scored 4 points and grabbed a season-high 8 rebounds as well as dishing out 1 assist as he played a season-high 21 minutes. Goshen finished the season with a 9 game losing streak. Hopefully things will improve next season for both the team as a whole and for Barrie specifically.
Another Belgian youngster playing in the NAIA is Rikkert De Martelaere who joined Northern New Mexico this season after first having played for Combine Prep Academy in Atlanta last season. Due to NAIA rules De Martelaere was forced to red-shirt the season and did not see any action.
Romain Boxus had a very solid debut in the States at Snow College (NJCAA). After having spent his previous couple of years in the French Espoirs league with Antibes & Gravelines, Boxus came over to the States this past summer and immediately took his place in the team, debuting with a 10 points & 5 rebounds effort in the season-opener against Hillcrest Academy. Boxus recorded his best game of the season in a win at Colorado Northwestern Community College as he scored a season-high 15 points (on 6-10 FG shooting) and also grabbed 3 rebounds, dished out 2 assists and blocked 2 shots in a busy 23 minutes of action. Overall Boxus averaged 6.0 ppg (shooting 41.3% from behind the arc) and 2.9 rpg in 15.3 mpg (23 games) in his freshman year. Very promising numbers if you ask me.
Another youngster that was playing in the NJCAA this season was Willem Vermylen who competed for South Georgia State in his freshman year. The Leuven native received much less playing time than Boxus however and over the course of the season only averaged 1.0 ppg & 0.7 rpg in 4.2 mpg (24 games). Vermylen had his best performance of the season in the season-opening victory against Martinique National where he scored 7 points (on 3-4 FG shooting) and added 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 5 steals in 15 minutes.
Besides these 9 youngsters who competed at the several collegiate levels in the States, we also had several of our youngsters playing for High Schools and Prep Schools. Unfortunately we don't have much info on how these guys performed so I will just give a little overview of the players and the schools/academies they played at:
- Jairo Pauwels ('97 - 1m93 - SF) - Faith Baptist Christian Academy (HS)
- David Keyaerts ('00 - 1m83 - G/F) - Winchendon (HS)
- David Bea Mulumba ('98 - 1m98 - SF) - Teays Valley Christian (HS)
- Steven Verplancken ('98 - 1m90 - G) - Teays Valley Christian (HS)
- Gilles Dekoninck ('98 - 1m96 - G/F) - Huntington Prep (Prep)
- Nicolas Dierynck ('99 - 1m91 - G/F) - Lee Academy Prep (Prep)
- Jonas Daneels ('97 - 1m95 - G) - 22Ft Basketball Academy (Prep)
- Matt Bernier ('98 - 1m88 - G) - DME Academy (Prep)
- Arnaud Philippart (1m80 - G) - Victory Rock (Prep)