In this #ThrowBackThursday we highlight the career of one of Belgium’s most honored basketball players and ultimate teammate: Rik Samaey.
What is there to say about a man who achieved pretty much everything there is to achieve in Belgian basketball? In a career that spanned from 1977 to 1996 in the Belgian First Division (EuroMillions Basketball) Samaey won pretty much everything there was to win:
– 1x Belgian Youngster of the Year (1978-’79)
– 10x Belgian Player of the Year (1980-’89 / 1993-’94)
– 12x Belgian Championship (1980-’85 / 1986-’87 / 1988-’94)
– 10x Belgian Cup (1980-’89 / 1993-’94).
Not bad for a humble down-to-earth guy who only really started playing basketball at the age of 17 after he was discovered at a sports-camp in the summer of 1977 by the manager of Sunair Basketbalclub Oostende. Together with Coach Lucien Van Kersschaever they approached Samaey and fairly easily convinced him that perhaps football wasn’t really his thing and that maybe he should give basketball a try.
Samaey did… and the rest is – as they say – history.
From only playing basketball at school to the Belgian First Division, to dominating Belgian Basketball throughout the 1980’s.
Pretty remarkable, wouldn’t you say?
From the 1977-’78 season until the 1984-’85 season Samaey played for Sunair Oostende and helped them turn the tide in the league by defeating the reigning Champs Racing Mechelen in the 1980-’81 season in the thrilling 3-2 Final-Series. Besides the title they also won the Belgian Cup that season to get the double, a feat they repeated for nearly every season from then on, in large part thanks to Samaey who – other than his usual great teamplay and defense – also got more and more involved on the offensive end and in the 1982-’83 season averaged an impressive 21.2 ppg to go along with his 11.6 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.7 spg & 4.0 bpg, while playing 35.7 mpg.
Oostende’s dominance over the Belgian league was coming to an end however and the departure of Samaey in 1985 was no stranger to that fact. Coach Van Kersschaever had taken over the reins of Racing Maes Pils Mechelen the previous season and knew that if he wanted to lead his team to glory he needed one more missing piece: the always hard-working and reigning Player of the Year (5 seasons in a row) Rik Samaey.
He was right… and the era of Racing Mechelen came into blossom.
Although Oostende still managed to prolong their title in Samaey’s first season with Mechelen, the guys in white/green quickly turned things around and won the double (league & cup) in the 1986-’87 season. Oostende got one more title the following season but from then on it was all Racing Mechelen with 6 consecutive Belgian League titles, 3 Belgian Cup titles and also 2 more selections as Belgian Player of the Year for Samaey personally.
Unfortunately the many years at the highest level had put Samaey’s body under tremendous strain and he had to undergo several knee surgeries throughout his career. But although it definitely slowed down his offensive productivity in the later seasons of his career, it clearly didn’t stop him from being a key player and contributing in every which way possible and in his final season with Mechelen (1994-’95) he was still averaging impressive numbers with 7.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 spg & 1.3 bpg.
Scoring or not, with 24 team trophies and 11 individual awards to his conto in a professional career that lasted 19 seasons I think we can safely say that Samaey has been the most honored player we’ve ever had in the Belgian First Division… and rightfully so.
Obviously he didn’t achieve it all by himself as he was blessed throughout his career to be surrounded by pretty much the ‘Who’s Who’ of Belgian Basketball both on the court and on the sideline with guys like Tony Van Den Bosch, Robert Van Herzele, Donald Verslycken, Jon Heath, Mark Browne, Eddy Lenaerts, Herman Hauwaert, Rick Raivio, Daniel Hartshorne, Ronny Bayer, Paul Bayer, Tony Zeno (briefly), Dean Marquardt, Danny Mebis, Will Varner, Eric Struelens, Dirk Snyders, Martin Haws, Danny Herman, Dimitri Lambrecht, Jacques Stas, Matt Beeuwsaert, Marc Deheneffe, Herbert Baert, Yves Dupont and of course his Head Coach Lucien Van Kersschaever…
All things have to come to an end though and much to Samaey’s dismay Mechelen was forced to close the books after the 1994-’95 season when their main sponsor Maes Pils decided to end their contributions and no new sponsor had stepped up to replace them. It was an abrupt ending of an almost mythical period in Belgian basketball and with pain in his heart Samaey left Mechelen to eventually end up with Antwerp who had taken over Mechelen’s federation number and who were hoping to continue their successes.
It wasn’t to be. Not for Antwerp… nor for Samaey who suffered another injury during practice and was eventually cut by the team after an inactivity of 6 months. It was the final straw for Samaey who decided he had put his body through enough suffering and ended his professional career to enjoy a couple of more seasons in the Belgian Second Division with Damme until he finally played his last official game in April 1999 at the age of 38.
After his basketball career Samaey remained closely-tied to the Belgian basketball scene: as a coach, an analyst and currently he is still occasionally co-commentating for (the too few) televised basketball games.
With this little article and video we at TIB would like to salute one of the All-Time Greats of Belgian Basketball.
We hope you enjoy it.