Oostende the best option for history-making Van Der Vuurst De Vries
OOSTENDE (Belgium) - Making history is nothing new for Keye Van Der Vuurst De Vries as the point guard has already etched his name in the record books of Netherlands basketball. Filou Oostende hope their young playmaker can help them write a new chapter in their Basketball Champions League history.
The Belgian club have reached the Christmas-New Year's break with a 4-5 record in Group A including knocking off UNET Holon on gameday 9 to pick up their first road victory of the season. That has Oostende in a three-way tie at 4-5 in the group for what looks like a three-team race with SIG Strasbourg and Lietkabelis for the fourth and final spot in the Playoffs.
Oostende have almost a tortured history in the BCL. In the inaugural season in 2016-17, the club was fifth in the Group Phase and transferred to the FIBA Europe Cup. A season later they finished sixth but in a three-way tie at 6-8 - the top team in the tiebreaker getting a Playoffs spot. In 2018-19, Oostende lost on the final gameday of the Regular Season in overtime and finished at 7-7 - just behind three teams at 8-6, two of which reached the post-season.
"It's really important (to reach the playoffs). I think we have a big chance this year with a good start. So I think it's possible and of course it would be amazing if we could reach that," said Van Der Vuurst, who is spending his first full season with Oostende's pro team. The 6ft 3in (1.91m) playmaker won't turn 18 years old until December 29 and he already has taken a major role in head coach Dario Gjergja's team.
"I think we have a team with a lot of talent, a team which wants to work for each other and give everything every single day," said Van Der Vuurst, who is averaging 8.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 0.6 steals in 20.5 minutes per game. "It's amazing to play against a lot of good players with more experience and to compete to them."
But naturally playing in a league the level of the BCL is a challenge for a player as young as Van Der Vuurst.
"My biggest challenge is being consistent. I have learned a lot of things this season, but the most important I think is to run my team and do the best for them," the youngster said.
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A big help for Van Der Vuurst has been Dusan Djordjevic, the 36-year-old point guard who has been with Oostende since 2011 and won eight straight Belgian league titles.
"He's amazing. He has a lot of experience so to practice against him every day is the best thing I can have right now. He helps me with everything. The biggest thing I have learned from him is to run the team and make the right play at the right time," said Van Der Vuurst, who was 10 years old when Djordjevic helped Oostende to their first league crown since 2007.
Van Der Vuurst actually can talk to his family as well if he needs help in the game. His father Cobbe played in the Dutch Premier League for Voorburg and coached for many years as well. And his brother Boyd Van Der Vuurst plays for Netherlands top flight side Den Helder Suns - in addition to having played for Netherlands in the youth national team ranks.
"It was not always easy because (his father) was hard on me. But of course it's nice to have a father who lives for the game and tries to help you," said Keye, who played his first basketball game when he was 5 years old.
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Op deze foto was ik 5 jaar oud. Ik begon met basketballen toen ik vier was en wilde altijd prof worden. Op het moment dat deze foto werd genomen had ik nog geen idee of ik het ook echt zou halen. En dat kan voor jou ook gelden. Sommige topsporters worden pas laat ontdekt. Ben jij lang, of erg snel of heb je een groot uithoudingsvermogen? Meld je dan aan voor de TeamNL Talentdag van 24 november. Ga naar ikwistnietdatikhetinmehad.nl #ikwistnietdatikhetinmehad #teamnltalentdag
Boyd is two years old and Keye loved trying to beat him growing up.
"It was special because he was my big brother, the one whom I looked up to and tried to beat him every single day one-on-one. That was really hard, but I tried every day," Keye said.
Keye Van Der Vuurst patterns his game after Argentina star Facundo Campazzo
Van Der Vuurst looked up his older brother growing up but when it came to a role model in the professional ranks, he looked to an Argentinean bulldog point guard known for his magic - Facundo Campazzo.
"He is an amazing point guard who makes the right play at the right moment and does everything that the team needs. I really like to watch him play," Van Der Vuurst said.
Youngest to debut for Netherlands
Keye Van Der Vuurst De Vries - here playing against Lithuania
Van Der Vuurst may face Campazzo one day at the club level but he would love to go head-to-head at the national team level as well. And the Oostende playmaker is doing his part in helping take his country to the next level.
Van Der Vuurst will never forget November 2018 - when he made history for Netherlands. On November 18, he received an email from the Netherlands basketball federation that his name was included in the player pool for the fifth window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers.
"That was one of the best things of 2018. It was a dream for me to be on the senior national team and I'm still proud of that," he said.
And then on November 29, Van Der Vuurst played 3 minutes against Poland and scored 2 points in 's-Hertogenbosch.
“IT WAS ALREADY SPECIAL TO MAKE MY DEBUT. STILL IT FEELS SPECIAL TO WRITE HISTORY FOR MY COUNTRY”
"It was one of the best days of my life. My family and friends were there and then to make my debut in my country was amazing," said Van Der Vuurst, who was still a month shy of his 17th birthday, making him the youngest player to ever debut for the Netherlands besting Ger Kok who was 17 years and 1 month in 1961. "Of course that was something extra. But for me, it was already special to make my debut. Still it feels special to write history for my country."
Van Der Vuurst played in two more World Cup Qualifiers in February 2019: going scoreless with 1 rebound and 1 assist in 8 minutes against Lithuania and then picking up 9 points and 4 assists in another game against Poland.
"My team helped me and told me just to play my game and not to think about other things," he said.
Place in Netherlands youth history
Even before making his mark as his country's youngest senior national team debutant, Van Der Vuurst already had some history with Netherlands. In 2017, he helped his country reach the Division A at the FIBA U16 European Championship level for the first time since 1983 by taking second place in Division B. Van Der Vuurst averaged 9.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.4 steals.
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In 2018, Netherlands won the FIBA U18 European Championship Division B title to get back to the Division A for the first time since 1990. It was also Netherlands' first-ever FIBA competition crown.
"I knew we had a good team, but that was a special moment to go to Division A," said Van Der Vuurst, who collected 12.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game - including 35 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals in the Final against Slovenia.
Great experience despite disappointment
This past summer was a disappointment for Van Der Vuurst though as Netherlands could not avoid relegation from the U18 European Championship, finishing in 15th place and getting sent back down to Division B for 2020.
"It was hard because it was not necessary. I think we had a good team, but that kind of thing happens," he said.
The Division A provided Van Der Vuurst with a great chance to face the best of the continent as Netherlands played Spain, Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro along the way and he averaged 12.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 9.6 assists and 1.4 steals.
"It was really important to compete against the best players of my age, and it was amazing to see where I am and what I still need to learn."
Bright future for Netherlands
While Van Der Vuurst played a major role in all that success, he is just one of many young talents that Netherlands have produced over the past few years. Others include Tristan Enaruna, who is playing for the famed Kansas college program; Rienk Mast, who is also playing collegiately at Bradley after two seasons in the FIBA Europe Cup with Donar Groningen; Unicaja Malaga's Morgan Stilma; Nathan Kuta, who is also in Belgium playing for top flight side Limburg United; and the Spain-based Bieshaar brothers Terrence and Oliver.
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"It feels good to be one of them and help my country get better every year," said Van Der Vuurst, who had Rienk and Stilma as teammates in the February 2019 FIBA window.
"We were so excited. That is something you dream about, but now it is important to try to reach the (FIBA) EuroBasket (2021) and show the world that we are also a good country."
More development at Oostende
Before he heads back to his homeland, Van Der Vuurst is on a mission to help Oostende, which he joined in 2017 at just 15 years of age after playing with Lokomotief in his home town of Rijswijk.
"(Oostende) asked me to come, so I did a tryout and I really liked it there. It was not an easy choice to leave my parents and brother, but I knew it was the best thing I could do for me and my basketball career," Van Der Vuurst said.
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Van Der Vuurst already made his Belgian pro league debut last season and even played in the playoffs at the end of the year, averaging 1.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 11.3 minutes in four games. That led him to sign a three-year extension with Oostende in July 2019.
"For me it was the best club to be at. I saw chances to play, I really like it there and the city and the club. So for me there was no reason to leave," said Van Der Vuurst, who is averaging 8.4 points, 2.3 rebound and 4.0 assists in the Belgian Euromillions League this season and will play for Team World at the Belgian All-Star Game.
Keye Van Der Vuurst De Vries is learning a lot playing against the likes of Gabe York from SIG Strasbourg
When asked what the goals for both him and the club are, Van Der Vuurst responded: "For me individually, it is to get better every day and play as many minutes as possible. And for the club to go to the next round and get so far as possible in the BCL."
"Go to the next round" of course would mean making history. But then again, that's nothing new for Keye Van Der Vuurst De Vries.