Thursday, September 6, 2012

An American's Guide to the Belgian Ethias League

In this guide I'll give you a quick rundown of Belgium's top professional league as it relates to American interest.  I'll tell you about of some of the former college, D-League & NBA players that will play in Belgium this season as well as some notable past players.  Also, I'll look at the teams to watch in international competitions this year.

First off, 8 teams will be competing for the Ethias League title this season, down one from last year as Gent was dropped from the league.  Oostende were regular season champions in 2011-12 before defeating Spirou to capture the Belgian championship.  The league leader in points per game, Chris Copeland of Aalstar, signed on with the New York Knicks while the Brooklyn Nets drafted Spirou's Tornike Shengelia 54th overall and signed him for this season.  Some former players with ties to the NBA include 2x NBA champion DJ Mbenga who holds dual Belgian/Congolese citizenship and former 2005 draft pick Axel Hervelle whose draft rights are still held by the Houston Rockets.

This season will feature a number of interesting recent college graduates beginning their professional careers. 4 of those players are fresh off NBA summer league stints.  Long Beach State's Larry Anderson played for the Clippers and will begin his career with Aalstar.  He'll be joined by recent Georgetown graduate Jason Clark who saw time in the summer league with Miami.  Antwerp brings in Texas-Arlington's LaMarcus Reed who played for the Blazers in Vegas.  VCU's Bradford Burgess played for the Magic before signing with Leuven.  There are also 2 veterans who also saw summer league action.  Ryan Thompson of Aalstar also played for Orlando.  He graduated from Rider and played 45 games for the Utah Flash in the D-League during the 2010-11 season.  The second is Spirou's Mike Scott who saw time with the Wizards.  Not to be confused with Atlanta's recent draft pick out of Virginia, this Mike Scott hails from Kent State.

There are a few more rookies that will begin their careers in Belgium this season.  Aalstar will have a third rookie in BYU's Noah Hartsock.  Leuven brings in three more NCAA rookies in addition to Burgess, Ivan Aska - Murray State, Faisal Aden - Washington State and Gerald Robinson - Georgia.  Duquesne's BJ Monteiro & Andre Williamson of Appalachian State will play for Liege.  Lastly, Verviers-Pepinster will play UCLA's Jerime Anderson as well as Chris Ferguson who comes from NAIA's Mid-Continent University.

Spirou sports the lone ex-NBA player in Jiri Welsch.  He was drafted 16th overall in 2002 by Philadelphia and played 247 career games with Golden State, Boston, Cleveland & Milwaukee.  Stanford's Jeremy Green heads to Verviers-Pepinster after 23 D-League games last year with Los Angeles & Erie.  Mons-Hainaut employees the second leading scorer from a year ago, Josh Bostic.  He spent 48 games with the New Mexico Thunderbirds during the 2010-11 season.  Derek Raivio, Aaslstar, saw 38 games of D-League action in 2010-11 as well splitting time between Fort Wayne and Erie.  Former Georgetown guard Jonathan Wallace joins Mons-Hainaut.  He played 58 games for Rio Grande Valley in 2009-10.

There are also some more notable players who graduated for NCAA schools in recent times.  Jason Love from Xavier heads to Antwerp this season after leading the league in rebounding a year ago for Verviers-Pepinster.  Former NC State star Tracy Smith joins Leuven this year while Montana's Brian Qvale heads to Mons-Hainaut.

The remainder of former college players are as follows:
Aalstar - Chris Young (Michigan)
Antwerp - Bryan Hopkins (SMU), Gregg Thondique (Virginia Union)
Leuven - Ian Hanavan (Evansville), Johnny Dukes (San Bernardino CC)
Liege - Gary Ware (Purdue), Wen Boss Mukubu (UAB)
Mons-Hainaut - Ronell Taylor (UAB), Monwell Randle (SE Missouri St), Justin Cage (Xavier)
Oostende - Matt Lojeski (Hawaii), Wes Wilkinson (Nebraska), Brent Wright (Florida)
Spirou - Derrick Allen (Mississippi), Matt Walsh (Florida), Justin Hamilton (Florida), Andre Riddick (Kentucky), Glen Dandridge (Lambuth, NAIA)
Verviers-Pepinster - none

Other than in the Ethias League, you can find 5 Belgian teams in other international competitions this season. Oostende will be competiting against 7 others teams for one available spot in the prestigious Euroleague.  Should they fall short, they will join Spirou in the Eurocup.  Aalstar, Antwerp & Mons-Hainaut will participate in the Eurochallenge this year.

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