|Axel Hervelle returns to Belgium this weekend, playing in the Eurocup final for Bilbao Basket|
By Dimitris Kontos
Saturday night is immensely important to all 24 players on the rosters of Uxue Bilbao Basket and Lokomotiv Kuban, but for Axel Hervelle it represents an even more special occasion.
Bilbao's Belgian power forward was born in Liège, just an hour's drive from Charleroi, were the Spanish and the Russian team will lock horns in the Eurocup final on Saturday.
Hervelle, who turns 30 next month, left his native country in 2004 to fulfil his basketball dreams in Spain with powerhouse Real Madrid, before joining the Basque club in 2009.
He's actively strived to support the development of the sport back home however, even spearheading last year efforts to save from extinction the club where he grew up, Verviers-Pepinster.
There is a very dedicated basketball fan base in Belgium, as the fantastic attendance record at the Ethias League game between Port of Antwerp Giants and Okapi Aalstar demonstrated recently, but it's still not among the most popular sports as far as the wider public is concerned.
"I think basketball is a beautiful sport and it's a great game for youngsters to take up," Hervelle told FIBAEurope.com.
"I would like Belgium to get to know it better, to watch it more and start enjoying it.
"What we need right now is some good results, and as a Belgian basketball player that's what I focus my efforts on.
"This way the game evolves, we attract the interest of people and they start following basketball more closely.
"[In 2011] it was only the second time in twenty years that we were playing at a EuroBasket.
"Basketball is already spoken of more often [in Belgium], and what we need to try is to be at every EuroBasket, every two years."
"That's the reason I go to the national team every chance I get.
Hervelle was unlucky and missed out on the biggest occasion for the national team during his lifetime, EuroBasket 2011.
"Two years ago I picked up an injury on the eve of the EuroBasket and that was a big blow for me," he recalls.
"I had done all the preparation with the team; I had put in a lot of effort and time.
"It was tough, and on top of that I also missed the first three months of that season.
"That ordeal has made me want very much to not miss the chance again to play and enjoy that great event."
|Axel Hervelle missed out on playing for Belgium at EuroBasket 2011, injuring himself on the eve of the tournament|
EVERYONE WANTS TO PLAY AT A EUROBASKET
Health permitting, Hervelle's wish will come true in Slovenia this September, when Belgium will make their first back-to-back EuroBasket appearance.
"Of course I will go to Slovenia, it only depends on my physical condition," he says with excitement in his voice.
"As you know, I've had some problems with my knee but now everything is fine and if it stays like this I'm going for sure.
"I've never had the luck to participate at a EuroBasket and it's one thing that every basketball player wants to do."
Hervelle's knee woes prevented him from joining the national team in their Qualifying campaign last summer.
Belgium finished in third place in Group E, behind Poland and Finland, to qualify for EuroBasket 2013.
They were drawn in First Round Group A, with EuroBasket 2011 runners-up France, as well as Germany, Israel, Ukraine and Great Britain.
Hervelle is realistic, but there is not a hint of trepidation in his face.
"This group is complicated for us, but on the other hand that's what makes this competition challenging and beautiful," he states.
"For us it's already a privilege to be among the 24 teams and we will try to do out best to qualify into the Second Round."
"Getting out of the First Round - that would be a success for us.
Belgium however are considered by many to not only be at the longest odds in their group of advancing to the next round, but also one of the weakest of all 24 contenders in Slovenia.
"Well it's better like that, if everyone underrates us we have more chances of winning games," says Hervelle, quickly adapting to the underdog role.
"It's true that we are lacking in the frontcourt, but we have two great point guards [Sam] Van Rossom and [Beye] Tabu-Eboma that are playing at an incredible level.
"My personal opinion is that we have a balanced team overall, except at the five spot where we would need more players.