|Thomas Van Den Spiegel (14) and Belgium will play for pride on Sunday and Monday|
By Yarone Arbel
Belgium basketball these days isn't included among the crème-de-la-crème of European basketball, but it used to be one of the best on the Old Continent when the sport was starting to bloom.
At the 1947 European Championship, Belgium finished fourth and, between 1959 and 1963, they were in the top eight three times in a row while the country's clubs were among the best on the continent.
Belgium is certainly one of the countries that European basketball owes a lot to for the popularity and great push the country gave the sport in the early days when it mattered so much.
However, those times are gone and 2011 is only their second appearance in EuroBasket since 1981.
The last time Belgium were part of the celebration was 18 years ago.
That was also the last time Belgium won a game in the leading European international basketball competition, perhaps the longest drought among the teams here.
Back then, it was Slovenia who fell to Belgium, going down 82-61.
On Sunday night at 21:00, Group D will see both teams go at each other again, but from two different corners.
While Slovenia have won all their three of their games so far, Belgium have lost three times in a row.
For Thomas van den Spiegel, the 2.14m centre and former Euroleague champion with CSKA Moscow, the experience so far has been a mix of bitter taste - because of the defeats - and a sweet taste - because of the experience.
"I think we had good chances to do good things here," said the 33-year-old big man.
"In the Qualifying Round last year we beat Georgia twice and then won over Poland to get the ticket here, so we proved that we belong to be in EuroBasket."
While this seemed like the new arising of Belgium basketball, the first days in Klaipeda had a different look than what could have been - and for good reason.
"We had a good preparation but right before the championship we lost our best player - Axel Hervelle - who got injured, so that changed things," explained van den Spiegel.
"I believe if we had him here things would have looked better, but it's not an excuse.
"We had a really bad start against Georgia and then we almost beat Bulgaria and gave a good fight to Russia, but it's still disappointing to lose three games in a row.
"The fact we won't qualify doesn't mean we don't care anymore or give up," he warned.
"We came here trying to qualify, but we knew it would be very difficult without Axel so the main thing now is not to go back home without a win.
"We're one of the oldest teams here, and it means we need to find the experience in us to bounce back from losses, something that happens for everyone.
"There are still two more games and we've got pride, we're going to fight and try to win the next two games."
Despite the three losses, van den Spiegel does have a positive outlook on the time Belgium has spent in Klaipeda.
"I think it's a great thing for Belgium basketball that we're here, and we're very happy to be part of it," he said.
"Personally it was always a dream for me to play in EuroBasket.
"I remember following the games on TV and watching my club team-mates play and I felt I really wanted to be part of it.
"There were some training camps with the clubs I was with that it was just the Americans, the youngsters and me because everyone else was playing EuroBasket, so finally to be part of it is really great," he said before adding a promise.
"There are a lot of former team-mates who I meet here on the floor, and that's great fun for me. I'm 33 years old but I'm not going to give up on this experience.
"In 2013 in Slovenia, I plan to be there again and hopefully make better results with our team."