Belgian basketball team visits Luverne
Published 10:34 am Thursday, July 17, 2014
A merry band of traveling athletes proved that soccer is not the only sport that Belgium excels at.
The Friendliest City in the South served as host to the Belgian U-Sports Exchange basketball team, a program that gives Belgian young men ages 17-18 (or juniors and seniors in high school) an opportunity to travel abroad, experience a variety of cultures and, most importantly, play a little basketball in between.
Mark Peeters, team manager and organizer of this year’s trip to the United States, said that this year’s team didn’t have a whole lot of time to prepare—only five or six practices have been held for the team since January.
Fortunately, that didn’t stop the Belgian team from walking away with the first-place trophy at the Tuskegee Summer Slam basketball tournament.
But basketball wasn’t all the team was up to these past few days.
“It’s also a chance to do some sight seeing,” Peeters said.
“If you’re in a foreign country, there’s a chance that this could be your first and last time here. So we went to Montgomery to the State Capitol, to Martin Luther King Jr.’s church and to the Civil Rights Museum. We visited those places to learn a little bit of history.”
The team also paid a visit to the Tuskegee Airmen National Museum, as well as to Panama City Beach, during their stay in America.
It was more than mere chance that led the Belgian basketball team to Luverne, as Peeters’ son, Nick, is a 2011 alumnus of Crenshaw Christian Academy.
The relationships he established with people in the surrounding area, including former coach Michael Malpass, provided a number of benefits for the trip abroad.
As for the tournament, Peeters said it was an enlightening experience in more ways than one.
But what came as a bigger surprise to him and his players was that their opponents might have been even more thrilled about the opportunity to face an opponent from the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Yesterday, I got a message from the organization saying that every team loved to play against us, and they were happy to get involved with another sort of basketball.”
The players they faced were shocked to hear how far they’d traveled to play basketball.
Even though the players were from different sides of the world, basketball is a language all unto itself.
But there were some adjustments on behalf of the Belgian team.
“The three-point line is farther away than in America,” Peeters said.
“The timeout system is different. Every time you think you get in trouble you can call a timeout, and that’s not allowed in Belgium.
“Americans play more physical and more one-on-one. Europeans play more with their heads and we’re not so athletic. We’re a lot like the Spurs.”
But the most important lesson wasn’t learned on any basketball court.
“Our players get experience to go abroad and play against Americans. They get to learn about it and about their culture. I think it’s a combination of all of it that makes the trip worthwhile.”