Courtesy UM (David Villavicencio)
The Fourth of July is the most patriotic day of the year in the United States.
While Americans will be celebrating their country at cookouts and with fireworks today, Miami guard Manu Lecomte’s patriotism will have him on a flight home to Belgium to play in the FIBA U20 European Championships.
“It is an honor,” Lecomte said of playing for Belgium. “It is special when you represent your country. It is different than your team or club.”
The U20 European Championships for Division B is a 14-team tournament that will be held in Sarajevo, Bosnia from July 10-20. Lecomte will captain a Belgian squad that is hungry to move into the top division in Europe. Belgium is one of seven teams in Group A, joined by Luxembourg, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Poland and Estonia.
“We are in Division B and now we are trying to move into Division A,” Lecomte said. “If you make the finals, you move to the next division. But we want to become champions in order to move into the A division.”
Lecomte has been part of Belgium’s national team program for most of the past decade. He was a member of the U16 team for two years, the U18 team for two years and is headed into his second year with the U20 squad. His extensive experience playing internationally for his country has pitted Lecomte against some of the best competition in the world.
“It helped me because it is good competition,” Lecomte said. “It has good players that only play pro and it has big teams like Spain, Italy and Greece. It’s also a good competition because there are also a lot of NCAA and [European] college players.”
International tournaments like the FIBA U20 European Championships can be a challenge for a team because they rarely get to spend much time preparing together before the competition begins.
“It’s hard because every year it’s a new team,” Lecomte said. “We don’t have a lot of time to practice together, but I am playing with some guys who have been with me since U16, so that helps.”
After a few days of training, Lecomte and his Belgian teammates will begin their quest for a championship on July 10 against Bosnia.
“We have Bosnia for the first game,” Lecomte said. “And it is going to be great because the whole country is going to be there to push their team. The first game will be a tough one, but I know it will be very exciting.”
As a freshman, Lecomte was an exciting player for the Hurricanes. He was third on the team with 7.7 ppg and ranked second in assists (77) and third in steals (21), while playing in all 32 games and making 16 starts. While he impressed Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga, he also caught the attention of his Belgian coaches.
“The coaches talked to me and said I improved a lot,” Lecomte said. “I am expecting to help make it a great championship for us. If I do the best I can, I know I can be real good for my team.”
Lecomte credits his vast improvement to spending the past year learing under Larrañaga and his staff and practicing every day against talented players like Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan.
“Those two guys that transferred are very good players,” Lecomte said. “I was able to compete everyday against them and I am trying to get better. I like to compete and my goal is to get better each day. When I first got here they were much better than me and now I can compete with them. That’s how I know that I have improved a lot.”
Lecomte has spent the offseason working in the weight room to add strength. He also has been polishing his game and working on his shot. Heading into his second collegiate season, Lecomte feels much more comfortable and plans to play more aggressively than he did a year ago.
But before he returns to Coral Gables to don Miami’s orange and green, he has a big goal that he hopes to accomplish over the next few weeks.
“We have always finished fourth or third, but we have never won,” Lecomte said. “This is the year and I am very excited about it”