www.berthoop.net: a strange year in review!

2020 was definitely a year like no other... 

Due to the COVID-19 situation and strict measures taken by the Belgian authorities, Bert has never attended so few basketball games in one year. Except for two FIBA Europe Cup games early last year, Bert could not sit or stand much on the sidelines and enjoy basketball games. Bert witnessed only two Spirou Charleroi losses in the FIBA Europe Cup in early 2020: one against 1. Bundesliga team medi Bayreuth (90-97) on Jan. 7th, 2020 and another one against Benfica Lisboa (78-85) on Jan. 21st, 2020. It was nevertheless a chance to see several young players who could become future stars on the continental basketball scene: Portuguese international guard Rafael Lisboa (born in 1999), US player Reid Alfred Travis (born in 1995, ex-Stanford and Kentucky in NCAA) or Belgian shooting guard Milan Samardzic (born in 1999).

It was also an opportunity for Bert to watch fantastic performances by excellent players Kenneth "Speedy" Smith, James Alexander Woodard and Anthony Ireland who might be the focus of many observers' and coaches' attention in the next few seasons. "Speedy" Smith, who played for Spirou Basket Charleroi back then, recorded a remarkable triple double against medi Bayreuth on Jan. 7th, 2020: 20 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. The former star of Louisiana Tech University moved to Antwerp Giants a few weeks later. He left the Flemish team last December to join the historic French squad CSP Limoges, involved in the Basketball Champions League. Another talent to be followed: James Alexander Woodard. He had 17 points (7/8 from the field), 3 rebounds and 4 assists for medi Bayreuth in the win against Spirou on Jan. 21st, 2020. Present in all sectors of the game, the former Tulsa University guard has averaged 11.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game for the Italian Serie A team Acqua San Bernardo Cantu so far this season. Anthony Ireland was "my" MVP of the game between Spirou and Benfica on Jan. 21st, 2020: 19 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Ireland was a top scorer for Loyola Marymount in NCAA from 2010 to 2014. Born in Connecticut, the US proactive point guard has played in different competitions around Europe in the last few years: in France, Greece, Poland, Lithuania, Russia and Portugal.

Besides these very few games, Bert also attended the Phoenix Brussels' press conference organized early last summer, when the first lockdown seemed to come to an end. At the Kinepolis cinema complex in Brussels, the Phoenix Brussels' staff and management presented their new team for the 2020-21 EuroMillions League season to the fans, press and media. Bert attended the event on behalf of Eurobasket.com.

After a short introductory film which looked back at club's history and development, it was time for the club's President André De Kandelaer and General Manager Nikkel Kebsi to present the Phoenix youth program (around 250 players of all ages), the new design of the team's home and away jerseys, the preseason program, etc. André De Kandelaer also analyzed the 2019-20 season about which he sounded rather unhappy. In presence of Benoit Hellings, the Belgian capital's Deputy for Sports, and Sven Gatz, the Minister for Sports of the Brussels' Region, the club's staff highlighted again the fact that they face a logistic problem. Their gym is too small and not appropriate for a major basketball team anymore. Political and private partners join their force to help the club improve the game hosting conditions in the future. The addition of a huge tent for welcoming fans and VIPs next to the gym in Neder-over-Hembeek has been promised. With some help from the authorities of the town and the region, an agreement with the Brussels Exhibition Centre has also been signed to allow the club to play at the huge Palais 12, well known in the European capital, a few times a year.

Despite the COVID-19 crisis and the fact that the former Phoenix Brussels' head coach and manager Serge Crevecoeur left last season, the club's committee looked boosted to build a strong and well-balanced team around a very enthusiastic coach, Ian Hanavan. During the press conference, the arrivals of two new players were also announced.

Sweden's international player Thomas Massamba was hired by the Belgian club. Massamba, born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, is a point guard who spent most of his basketball career in Sweden: Sodertalje Kings, Solna Vikings, 08 Stockholm, BC Lulea and KFUM Jamtland Basket. He also experienced basketball in Cyprus at InterCollege Etha Engomis from 2010 to end 2012, Michelin Etha Engomis Nicosia in 2014-15 or Keravnos Strovolou in 2015-16, in Bulgaria at Lukoil Academic Sofia in 2012-13, in Czech Republic at CEZ Basketball Nymburk in 2013-14, in Kosovo at Sigal Prishtina at the end of the 2015-16 season, in Poland at MKS Dabrowa Gornicza early in the 2017-18 season and finally in Switzerland at Lions de Genève in the second part of the 2017-18 season. Last season, he averaged 8.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 6.6 apg for KFUM Jamtland Basket in the Swedish Basketligan. Thomas Massamba has also been a very active Swedish national team member from 2006 until now.

Ryan Richards wass the other addition on the Phoenix's roster for the 2020-21 season. Surprise! The British big man was present at the press conference in Brussels last summer. Ryan Richards, a true center, is also a real globetrotter. Drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 2010 (secound round, 49th pick), Ryan Richards played a bit everywhere in the world: Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Georgia, Poland, Austria, United Arab Emirates, Greece, Hungary, Iran, China, Bahrain, Lebanon, North Macedonia, Mexico, Estonia and the United Kingdom. He also played for the British team in the past. He averaged 7.7 ppg and 1.3 rpg with his last team Plymouth University Raiders (United Kingdom-BBL) in early 2020. He was eventually cut by Phoenix Brussels after just a few rounds in the 2020-21 EuroMillions League regular competitions.

The press conference ended on a positive note with many fans and observers happy to meet and greet their favourite players and their coach Ian Hanavan (with social distancing being respected of course).

Bert's very informative interview with both Belgian coaches Bruno Dagnely (BC Casino Spa) and Tom Poppe (Spirou Ladies and RBB Gembloux) about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on their basketball season (published here on Eurobasket.com) as well as a special review of the US college basketball (go to http://berthoop.blogspot.com/2020/05/ncaa-basketball-2019-20-berthoopnet.html) season were other highlights in 2020. By the way, Bert remains one of the very few European members of the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA).

Happy "Better" Year! May 2021 be full of grand adventures and opportunities on and off the court.

Pictures and courtesy: Bert Larsimont and eurobasket.com

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