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Basketball legend Rik Samaey looks back on his period as a player for Sunair Oostende

On May 25th Basketball Club Ostend celebrates its 50th anniversary. The past nine years, Filou Oostende turned out to be unbeatable in the Finals of Belgian basketball. In the last century, there was yet another period of success. Ostend was not exactly a top team in the seventies, until a young talented player – Rik Samaey – joined the team. Rik was nine years old when BC Oostende was born. Eight years later he already played with the first team. The Flemish top talent achieved big things as a basketball player in Ostend. For instance, he led the team to five consecutive national titles and Samaey was named MVP of the league five times in the jersey of BCO. The legendary Rik Samaey looks back on his period at Ostend with a lot of enthusiasm.

(photo: Sporza.be)

How are you experiencing this corona crisis? Do you manage to kill time a little?  

Everything’s fine. To be honest, I haven’t been bored during this lockdown period. I go cycling a lot these days. Cycling is a big passion of mine. Besides that, I keep myself busy with household chores, because here at home there are always things that have to be done. By the end of this week I would like to finish The Last Dance, that wonderful documentary about Michael Jordan. In that way, I’ve never had such a quiet and easy period. Now we also know what life is like without a lot of social contacts.

How much do you miss basketball these days?

Actually I just miss sports in general, but especially cycling. No ‘Ronde van Vlaanderen’ and no Paris-Roubaix this year… those are the things I do miss. I also miss commenting on Belgian basketball games (Rik Samaey is a part-time sports commentator at Play Sports and Sporza). It’s a pity that the competition has been cancelled ofcourse. On the other hand, this year I was lucky to be able to catch a few NBA games in the States. In January we went to Denver with a group of friends to catch some live NBA action. An amazing experience. Normally we go to America in March, but this time we decided to go in January. And we were lucky too, otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten there. That’s the biggest upside for us this season. And as you know, the Denver Nuggets are a great team to watch. But if you ask me if Denver is a championship contender, my answer is no. Jokic is not a franchise player that’s gonna win championships for you. Besides that, the atmoshphere in Denver was amazing.

BC Ostend celebrates its 50th anniversary on May 25th. Do you often look back on your period as a player at Ostend?

I sometimes think back about that beautiful period at BC Oostende, yes. I started my career in Ostend at the age of seventeen, in 1977. In that period Sunair Oostende did not represent that much, to be honest. The team did play in the first division, but that’s all. When I started in Ostend, the arena was filled for one third. Things didn’t go well with the team at that time. With the arrival of American coach Ron Adams, the team started to finally win games.

How much did you like playing in Ostend? As a player, did you feel any connection with the city?

Well, I’m from Zandvoorde, which is very close to Ostend. If you can play in Ostend when you’re from Zandvoorde, that’s fantastic, of course. I almost litterally played in my backyard. In those days a few boys from Blankenberge also played in our team. The team was very regional in that way around the 80’s, and that was quite unique. We certainly felt some connection with the city. As a teenager I went to school in Ostend. During my early years as a player, I also worked at Sunair, the club’s main sponsor at the time.

During your period in Ostend you won the MVP-award five times in a row. Slowly but surely Rik Samaey became a real phenomenon in the city. How did you feel about that?

I got a lot of appreciation in Ostend, for which I am still grateful to the city and the fans. At the beginning of the 80’s I also played an important role within the team. We grew together. Of course, in 1981 I wasn’t the same player as when I started in 1977. In my first years in Ostend, I made a lot of progress. Besides that, we should not underestimate the work of Guido Blomme (former manager of BCO). He then brought two top players from America to Ostend, Mark Brown and Jon Heath. The Front Office built around the three of us. As a result of that, we had a beautiful team.

What made BC Oostende so unique in that period? Was it the connection and cohesion between the players?

Absolutely. The skeleton of our team was strong. The fundamentals were in place. The skeleton of the team, being Brown, Heath and myself, stayed with the team for quite a while. Every year the Front Office looked for players who could complement us well. That turned out to be the formula for success. Compare it to a house you build. You can change the kitchen or buy a new sofa, as long as the skeleton of the house remains unchanged, the house will stay upright. Also, the players I played with in Ostend were driven. If you wanted to play with a team that is first in the rankings, you can’t play two sloppy matches in a row.

What is your best memory of your period at BC Oostende? And what was so special about playing in Ostend?

In the 1980-81 season we played the decisive final game against Racing Mechelen. Game 5, the most important game of the season. An hour and a half before the game the doors of the arena opened for the fans. We, the players, had been warming up inside for a while. After the doors opened, the fans stormed inside. Five minutes after the doors opened, the stadium was packed. I’ve never seen that before. People literally ran to their seats. Partly thanks to the adrenaline pumped through our bodies by all those supporters, we won that decisive game. That was also the first time I became champion with BCO, for me that is still one of the best moments of my career.

Without BCO, the history of Belgian basketball would have been completely different. How important has Basketball Club Ostend been for Belgian basketball, according to you?

During my active career I always had the feeling that Ostend wanted to go for the title every year. Since the end of the 70’s, beginning of the 80’s, Ostend can only present fantastic results. BCO can really say that she has been – and still is – the tractor of Belgian basketball. Ostend has certainly had periods in which they had to fight fierce competition, but during the past forty years the team always had to be taken into account. It is a team that competes for the title almost every year.

Today, Filou Oostende has proven over the past decade that there is no better team than BCO. How do you look at these amazing results Dario Gjergja has achieved with his team in the past decade?

How Filou Ostend has won one title after another over the past nine years is very special. In my opinion, the success of Ostend is largely due to the separate approach of coach Dario Gjergia. He gets the best out of every player. And if you can’t handle Gjergja’s style, you’re no longer part of his plans. He has been crucial for the success of Ostend in the past decade. Even though Filou Ostend lost a lot of talent in recent years, the Croatian coach still gets the maximum out of every season.

How long can Ostend go on like this? Can Ostend win many more championships in the following years?

That will mainly depend on the competition. If the Antwerp Giants could have kept last year’s team, we might have talked less about Ostend this year. During the past season, Filou Oostende lost some of its glamour. If you choose to invest in young players, you know these guys will need some time to be effective for the team. And you never know how good those youngsters will be eventually. You also don’t know what their ceiling is. But one thing is certain, the team has a smaller budget each year.

Do you still often find your way to the Versluys Dome?

Yes I do. I love to watch European games that are being played in Ostend. I’m not watching Belgian games in Ostend anymore. But if I have the chance to watch a European game, I will go to the Versluys Dome with a lot of pleasure! That last game against Tenerife in March (just before the lockdown) was phenomenal by the way.

The love of basketball will never disappear out of Rik Samaey’s DNA.

Never! (laughs) I’m still enjoying the game of basketball. The advantage of this sport is that the best team usually wins the game. In football, for example, that’s not always the case. That’s what makes basketball such a great sport. As a player, I never came home with the words: ‘We lost by ten points, but we could have won the game’. In basketball, the best team wins, and that’s what makes our sport so fair and beautiful.

(photo: Sport.be)

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