By Stoffel Castelein
Mateusz Ponitka (1993) probably doesn’t need an introduction but this summer he made a somewhat surprising move leaving his home country Poland and joining Belgian Telenet Oostende. Belgian first division (a.k.a. Ethiasleague) is not the most well-known league in Europe. Game footage is hard to come by in other countries and even in Belgium broadcasts are limited to one TV-provider. Due to this underexposure in Europe very little is known about the players, teams and level of play. So why does one of Europe’s most talented players decide to play in Belgium? Couple of reasons:
Last couple of seasons several players from the Ethiasleague have gone from Belgium to the NBA. Chris Copeland went from being the Ethiasleague top scorer to instant offense from the Knicks bench. Georgian swingman Tornike ‘Toko’ Shengelia (91) got drafted by the Nets after a few productive season in Belgium. Mirza Teletovic also went from Oostende to the Nets (via Spain). Ponitka’s manager has indicated that Oostende is his last stop before the NBA.
Other prospects are trying to do the same thing. Both Nikola Jankovic and Nemanja Besovic will play for Pepinster upcoming season (on loan from powerhouse Charleroi). This leads to the second reason why Ponitka might have chosen Belgium.
Quality minutes versus quality opponents
Ponitka will see major minutes (more on that later) and although not all Belgians team compete on the same level he’ll see quality opponents when facing the top 5 teams. Most of those he’ll face will be fairly young players straight out of college. Playing for Oostende he’ll also play Eurocup or even Euroleague if they manage to win the qualifying round in Vilnius. After a couple of disappointing European campaigns Oostende is poised to make some noise in Europe.
It’s all about the money, sort of
For tax reasons signing young players (under 22) is very interesting for Belgian team. If you can sign young players who can contribute right away you’ve hit the jackpot.
A few weeks ago the Ponitka-move would have been impossible. Oostende’s backcourt seemed set but then came Olympiacos calling. MVP Matt Lojeski, who helped lead Oostende to back-to-back championships, left for the Greek powerhouse and Oostende needed a new wingman. With the Ponitka signing this should be Oostende’s rotation.
PG: Dusan Djordjevic - Niels Marnegraeve
SG: Mateusz Ponitka - Quentin Serron
SF: Ryan Thompson - Jean Salumu
PF: Brent Wright - Pierre-Antoine Gillet - Veselin Petrovic
C: X - Wes Wilkinson - Khalid Boukichou
As you can see Ponitka will join a fairly young wing-rotation, Serron and Salumu are the last two Rookies of the Year in Belgium (Serron in 2012 and Salumu in 2013). Ryan Thompson was last year’s top scorer for Okapi Aalstar in Belgium. Ponitka and Thompson will need to provide a big part of the Oostende’s offense as they replace two of BCO’s double-figure scorers from last year; Lojeski and Mario Stojic.
If Oostende’s final signing, most likely an experienced center, is a good one they will again be considered as the favourite to win the title and the third three-peat in club history.
Last incentive for Ponitka to sign in Oostende must have been the coach. Dario Gjergja is a young coach but by many considered as one of the rising stars in coaching. Gjergja is a tough coach; hard on both his players and the referees (provides great TV for those lucky enough to get the watch the games). The thing that makes him an ideal coach for a player like Ponitka is his willingness to work with young players 24/7. During this off-season one of his young players spent time at the coaches home working on his game.
In my opinion both Oostende and Ponitka will benefit from this deal, Oostende will have a new chance to compete for the league title and Ponitka will be a more experienced, better player when he decides to enter the NBA-draft.
Twitter of the author: @belgianyouthbb