Basketball: Devon aims to push for Euroleague place

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Sheffield basketball player Devon Van Oostrum says he’ll return to Laboral Kutxa in Vitoria, today aiming to make the Spanish club’s Euroleague roster.

Van Oostrum, aged 20, moved to Spain as a 16-year-old to pursue his dream of playing basketball.

Sheffield's Devon Van Oostrum in action for Great Britain at the Eurobasket Championship in Slovenia. Pic: Mansoor Ahmed Photography

Sheffield's Devon Van Oostrum in action for Great Britain at the Eurobasket Championship in Slovenia. Pic: Mansoor Ahmed Photography

This summer he has been part of the Great Britain under 20 squad that won promotion from Division B of the European Championships and then moved onto play a key role with the senior squad at the Eurobasket tournament in Slovenia.

And with just one day back in his home city before flying from Manchester to the Basque capital of Bilbao, Van Oostrum joined his father, Duco, at All Saints School to hold a question and answer session with players and coaches from the Junior Saints Basketball Club.

Van Oostrum first made his name with the Junior Sharks - who later became Junior Saints - and told the youngsters about the secrets of his success.

He said: “You have to make sure you want it. You can’t have any doubts.

“You have to make a lot of sacrifices to do this and that is exactly what I did. I was lucky to realise when I was 12 that I wanted to do this.

“I made a lot of sacrifices which gave me time to practice. And that’s why I’m here.”

The point guard, who harbours hopes of one day playing in the NBA, praised the support he had from his family but also explained how he badgered his teachers at Silverdale School in Sheffield to open the gym at lunch breaks so he could perfect his shot.

It also wasn’t easy when he moved to Spain and he’s perfectly willing to call his first season as a professional “the worst year of my life” as he battled language problems and combining finishing his studies with being a boy against men on the court.

“I was always the best player in my team as a junior,” he said. “To go from that to playing against guys who can pretty much do what they want with you is tough.

“It made me work harder because I could see how good I needed to be.”

Hard work isn’t a problem though, and father and son shared a story with the Junior Saints about how Devon, a right handed player, had improved his left hand to such and extent that the England under 15 coach thought his predominant hand was his left.

Van Oostrum still has four years left on his contract at Laboral Kutxa and having been sent on loan last season he’s vowed to make his mark.

It will be a big challenge as the club play in Spain’s top league - widely considered to be the best league outside American’s NBA - and have qualified for the Euroleague - basketball’s version of football’s Champions League.

“I still have goals in mind and obviously I want to do the best that I can but there’s no pressure - it’s not a contract year or anything,” he said.

“I’m there to stay. I’ll be fighting for the rotation as a first team player.

“It’s definitely a different mindset (to going on loan to a lower league club). It’s rewarding. I had a great summer and I’m ready to play with the main team.”

Van Oostrum, averaging a tournament high of close to 27 points per match, took the Under 20s European Championships in Romania by storm to earn a place on the all-star team.

He said his last season in an age group category was a brilliant experience: “From the first day at (training) camp I said to my dad ‘I just want to have a bit of fun’. We weren’t really expecting any results.

“But then we started playing our friendly games and we won all of them. We thought we can do something here.

“We took it one game at a time at the European Championships - we beat (eventual winners) Poland in the group stages - and we thought ‘why can’t we win this?’

“We got all the way to the final and although we lost in the end we got right there. Our goal was promotion.”

With little time for a break from the action Van Oostrum joined up with the senior British squad shorn of star players Luol Deng, Joel Freeland and Pops Mensah-Bonsu.

Little was expected when the team arrived in Slovenia but they won two of their five group matches and narrowly missed out on moving onto the second stage with defeat against Ukraine in their final game.

It’s the latest sign that basketball in Great Britain is moving in the right direction even at a time when its funding is a constant cause of worry.

A core of young players have established themselves in head coach Joe Prunty’s squad to provide hope for the next decade.

Van Oostrum said: “It’s a shame we didn’t qualify (for the second stage). We were one match away and ready to go into the second round but we made massive strides. Me, Andrew Lawrence, Myles Hesson and all those guys from the under 20s that came up (performed well).

“It’s good to see those guys develop and with us playing well at the Championships together showing that we have a future.

“We were the underdogs - which is normal - but we didn’t have Luol Deng, Joel Freeland and Pops. People thought they were going to blow us out and we showed that’s not the case.

“We showed we have young guys ready to play. We beat Germany and Israel and played Belgium close. We did well.”

Van Oostrum, who reportedly was one of Prunty’s final choices in his squad of 12, started the tournament slowly but ended it as one the team’s most important players.

“In the first game I played three minutes but I stayed ready,” he said.

“I knew I’d get my opportunity and I did against France (13 points and three assists). I did well and my minutes went up from there and then I’m playing 30 minutes a game.”

The next challenge for Van Oostrum, who will celebrate his 21st birthday in January, is to break into the first team in Vitoria.

That starts with a friendly match on Sunday and the start of the Spanish ACB League season later this month.

If he takes the advice that he gave the group of young players at All Saints then he has an excellent chance.

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