The Club Scene: BCM Gravelines

Dec 29, 2011 by Frankie Sachs, Print
The Club Scene: BCM Gravelines
Xavier Wallez - BCM GravelinesIn a town perhaps best known for housing one of the world’s most powerful nuclear power plants, a new basketball power is on the rise. BCM Gravelines is only two years removed from celebrating a quarter-century of basketball and now it is in the midst of one of its most-promising seasons ever in European competiton as it prepares to roll into the Eurocup Last 16. Last season Gravelines made some noise as it won its first Semaine des As trophy, reached the French League semifinals and advanced to the quarterfinals of the EuroChallenge. The goals are even greater this year and with a strong, deep roster, there is every reason to believe that Gravelines is ready to make the leap forward to become a French and European power.

Basket Club Maritime de Gravelines was founded in 1984 when elected officials from two towns in the northern French district of Dunkirk – Gravelines and Grand-Fort-Philippe – joined forces. Success came quickly for the team which began play in the country’s third division. Larry Lewis was the club’s first true star and helped it reach the second division and then by May 1988, to join the French elite level too.

Local talent Xavier ”Rambo” Wallez became the face of Gravelines in its first seasons in the top French League. The big man emblemized the fight needed to turn the small club into a success. After placing 10th in the first season, a sixth-place finish in 1990 was something to celebrate, as it also earned the club a spot in the preliminary rounds of the 1991 Korac Cup. Wallez, Olivier Bourgain and co. won their first game against Dutch side Den Bosch, but the dream of reaching the regular season was dashed by Spain’s Estudiantes by a single points after a two-game series.

BCM consolidated its status as an emerging power and just two years later was fourth in the French League. The following season Gravelines even made some noise on the international scene by knocking off Maccabi Haifa of Israel and AEK Athens of Greece to land in the Korac Cup regular season. Despite wins over Leon of Spain and Peristeri Athens of Greece, BCM was unable to climb to the next stage, but the taste of Europe gave hope to players and fans alike for bigger things on tap.

Gravelines was fourth again in 1994, but financial trouble rocked the club and prevented it from returning to play in Europe and growing into a true power. By the late 1990s Gravelines slid to the bottom part of the French League and had little hope, though Wallez returned in 1996 for four season to help keep the team fighting hard. A young Ali Bouziane became one of the team’s best players at the turn of the century.

The club’s fortunes took a turn upwards in 2002 when a merger with Dunkerque created a new stronger, wealthier club: Basket Club Maritime Gravelines Dunkerque Grand Littoral. The results were almost immediate. First Gravelines, led by Frankie King and Danny Strong, returned to continental action and advanced one stage in the inaugural ULEB Cup season of 2002-03. That season the team also reached the French Cup title game. Former Euroleague champ and Olympic medalist Dainius Adomaitis came aboard the next season and became a leader. That season Gravelines shocked everyone to advance to the 2004 French League finals, but Pau-Orthez stood in the way to an elusive first title.

Another important event took place in 2004: Christian Devos took over as chairman. That year the club also unveiled a new logo and a pirate as the team mascot. On the floor, with Laurent Sciarra and Zelly Wesson as its main references, Gravelines reached two title games in the 2004-05 season. The first was a painful 112-76 loss to SLUC Nancy in the Semaine des As final, but Gravelines bounced back to conquer its first title, the French Cup, by downing Cholet Basket 91-79 in Bercy. In Europe, despite a 5-5 record, Gravelines could not reach the 2004-05 ULEB Cup elimination rounds.

Gravelines became a regular in the French league playoffs and in European competitions, but its accent to the stop had stalled. That changed on 2008 when after the team finished 14th in France and did not compete in any level in Europe, Christian Monschau was handed the reins as head coach. Improvement was immediate. A season later, led by Tony Skinn and Yannick Bokolo, Gravelines was sixth in France. And by 2010, the squad featured Ben Woodside, J.K. Edwards and Bokolo and reached the French league semifinals and returned to the French Cup final, though it lost against Orleans.

BCM Gravelines lifts the Semaine des As trophy (Photo: bounced back last season to lift its first Semaine des As trophy by downing Elan Chalon 79-71 behind 23 points from Bokolo. The club also reached the French League semifinals for the second consecutive season, but could not overcome Cholet. The current season opened a new window of hope with Gravelines slotted into the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Qualifying Rounds tournament. Alas after playing fellow French side Asvel even for 20 minutes, Gravelines fell behind in the second half and lost.

Nevertheless, a brilliant start to the 2011-12 campaign both in the French League and the Eurocup has created fresh buzz around Gravelines. Much of that early success has come from the dedication of relatively young stars like Andrew Albicy, Ludo Vaty and Rudy Jomby alongside that of Edwards and Bokolo. With Monschau calling the shots and young players flying all over the court, now is the time to jump on the Gravelines bandwagon as this club from the north of France aims for great things.