NBA dreams with their feet on the ground in Bilbao

NBA dreams with their feet on the ground in Bilbao
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Thijs De Ridder: NBA dreams with his feet on the ground in BilbaoPankra Nieto

It happened in the U16 European Championship of category B in Podgorica (Montenegro), in August 2019. It was in that competition, in which he entered the All Star Five after being the third highest scorer (19.3 points) and capturing 9.9 rebounds per game, when Thijs De Ridder (Brasschaat, 1-31-2003) internalized that his basketball dreams could become some day. “When I was 14 or 15 years old I began to attract the attention of some agents and to be called up to the youth ranks in Belgium. In that competition I realized that I could make a career in basketball. Before that I already took it seriously, but that was the moment I said to myself: I have always dreamed of the NBA and the Euroleague, let’s try to go for it”recalls the 21-year-old power forward.

Of that quintet, the Polish Jeremy Sochan has already spent two years in the best league on the planet with the San Antonio Spurs, the Dane Noah Sorensen, the Dutch Armin Strojil and the Montenegrin Stefan Vukcevic have much more anonymous careers and De Ridder cooks his dreams with very good ingredients, having starred in a very good debut course in the Surne Bilbao Basket, where he is convinced that he will expand his improvement and learning process next year.

“I am very happy with this first campaign. I came from the Belgian league and landing in the best competition in Europe is a big change. I noticed it especially at the beginning but the adaptation process was fluid. I know I’ve had ups and downs, but the important thing is to try to finish as well as possible as a team,” says a player who In 31 appointments he averages 6.2 points and 4.1 rebounds on average in just over 17 minutes of play, a level of prominence that he did not have: “I didn’t expect to play so many minutes, not even remotely. I thought it was going to be a first test campaign, a kind of landing in the ACB, but the coach gave me a lot of confidence from the beginning, he has given me many minutes and I am very happy.”

The power forward has not suffered when adapting to his new life outside of Belgium. “Bilbao is a very good city and I have been lucky to be surrounded by very good people. The locker room is wonderful, the perfect mix between young people and veterans. It’s a perfect group, very fun. That part was easy,” he admits. Of course, the demands on the field have increased, although he has known how to adapt without major problems: “The change is abysmal. The level of competitiveness, the speed of the game… Everything forces you to be constantly alert.”


De Ridder comes from a family nucleus in which baskets have played a main role. “My parents have always been involved in this sport, My mother played in the Belgian First Division, my two brothers also play…”, He relates, although as a child he had a football phase. “I played soccer for four years, from five to nine. I developed in the attack zone, left winger. It was very fast; You know, long legs (laughs). Then I moved on to basketball because my father was my older brother’s coach and that’s cool,” he recalls. He grew up watching LeBron James, admiring the NBA and the Euroleague “because I always wanted to reach that level” and cwith his brother Niels, two years older, as an idol. “He was Lo as a child and he still is now,” he emphasizes.

“I played with him in my first professional year at Antwerp Giants, when I was 17 years old. Then he went to Kortrijk and in his first year there, when they were in the Second Division, we crossed paths in the Cup. He is two years older, a good player in Belgium. In the lower categories of Antwerp we already played together a couple of times, but doing it at a professional level was a dream and we were able to fulfill it. It was the best moment of our sporting lives because we did everything together. Our ties were very close, we were the best of friends. What was it like playing against him? Very strange, very shocking. But on the court… (laughs). As children we were already very competitive, as it should be”review.


After being named best young player and sixth man in the Belgian league, Last summer, Surne Bilbao Basket opened the doors of the ACB. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t know much about the club. Evidently I knew that Axel Hervelle, one of the best Belgian players in history, left a great legacy here, so I knew I was going to a very good club. Now I can say that I am very happy to have come here because everything has fallen into place: club, city, fans…”, he points out.


If someone passes by the training center of the men in black At Artxanda, you have many possibilities to find De Ridder doing extra training sessions and even working on rest days. Both coaches and teammates highlight his professional ethics and his intense desire to improve. “I like that people describe me as a great worker. I work very hard because I try to achieve my dreams. Every time we have a day off I come to the pavilion to work, I always want to train and improve. If I don’t do it, I feel bad; I feel like I’ve wasted the day. I love basketball and I am a perfectionist. Even if we lose against Real Madrid, something that could be taken as normal, I get angry. I am a winner and I always want to win,” he summarizes as a philosophy of life.

“I want to be the perfect player; I know I’m not going to be, but I want to be the best possible in everything.”

Therefore, despite how much he has advanced as a professional in a short time and the great goals he has in his head, he does not hide that he still has a lot to improve: “I have to improve my dribbling. And the shot, of course. Also the mental aspect of the game to read the games better, find my teammates better… I want to be the perfect player. “I know I’m not going to be, but I want to be the best I can be at everything.”


Last Sunday, his representation agency, Tangram Sports, announced thate De Ridder had declared eligible for him draft of the NBA, just as he did last year later withdrawing his name, something he can also do this time because it will not be until next year’s contest when he will be automatically eligible since he will have already turned 22 years old. He does not hide his desire to one day play on the other side of the puddlebut he takes it calmly and without obsessing. “The NBA is a dream and a goal for me. I think I’m still at an age where anything is possible. and I’m going to try it. If I don’t get it this year, I would still have to enter the draft next year. And if it has to be when I’m older, then I’ll try it too,” he says.

“The NBA is a dream and a goal for me; “Scouts” have come to see me, but I don’t feel pressure.”

Last year he declared himself eligible “to put my name on the international scene, on the radar. I neither traveled to the United States nor did workouts or interviews”. He sees this year’s process as “similar but with more expectations, since they have come scout from several teams to see me play. On some occasions I played a shitty game, very bad. That’s basketball. There were also games where I played really well. Yes, it can be an added pressure for young people, but we are already at a high level of demand. This is already the ACB and Bilbao Basket. It is not a situation that stresses me or generates pressure for me. I will travel to Houston on June 5 to do workouts with a trainer, not with the Houston Rockets. From there, we will see what we do.”

“Next year I see myself in Bilbao, of course; “It is the ideal place to have a leading role in a league at the ACB level”

The Belgian wants to take firm steps in his career and points out that next year “I see myself improving in all facets, scoring, rebounding, with more minutes if possible, being able to help the team more.” And where do you think you will continue taking those steps? “Here. Of course of course. I have a valid contract. I see myself playing in Bilbao next season. This is a perfect platform for me, to improve and to have minutes and prominence in a competition of the importance of the ACB. I would like to achieve something special in Bilbao,” he adds.

In the process of learning and enjoyment, it values ​​Jaume Ponsarnau and the black tide. Regarding his coach, he emphasizes that “I love working with him. He thought he wasn’t going to play as much and he allowed me to have almost 18 minutes on average. I hope to have you with me next year so you can continue helping me improve and grow.”. The fans are described as “incredible”. “The first time I heard them singing Follow De Ridder It was a brutal feeling. I love them”.

Off the court, he enjoys life like any 21-year-old kid. “I have a girlfriend,” she says at the outset. “And I love cars. I love watching Formula 1. In my free time I like it a lot get on the McLaren and Ferrari websites and build my own cars for fun. If any fan has a good car to drive… (laughs). I also spend a lot of time watching basketball games and walking around Bilbao, I really like the city. And the food! Incredibly good. I have made trips to San Sebastián, to towns on the coast… It is all beautiful,” he says. the Belgian, who is on solid ground in Bilbao while dreaming of the NBA.



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