Axel Hervelle, Verviers-Pepinster

Nov 24, 2003 by Nate Jaffee, Print
Axel Hervelle, Verviers-Pepinster
Alex Hervelle - Real Madrid Two months ago, forward Alex Hervelle of ULEB Cup newcomer Verviers-Pepinster forward Axel Hervelle was one of the best kept secrets in European basketball. The slender 2.06-meter forward was virtually unknown. But if his name was rarely mentioned outside his native Belgium, that's because the international scouts who knew about Hervelle considered him a hidden treasure better kept secret. "He developed a little bit later than most top prospects," an American scout who has followed Hervelle for two seasons told "But he has the potential to be one of those guys who fills out physically and eventually blossoms into an NBA player." Hervelle's improvement has been dramatic. In the past year, he has transformed himself from unknown teen to a versatile power forward to whom ULEB Cup Group D opponents must pay strict attention. After he scored 20 points with 8 rebounds against Reflex and power forward Ognjen Askrabic in Week 1 of ULEB Cup competition, Hervelle established himself as one of the most interesting prospects in the competition.

The man whom Hervelle considers his mentor, Pepinster coach Niksa Bavcevic, named him captain of the team. But Bavcevic cautions against proclaiming Hervelle a phenom. "Let me first say this about Axel: he's far from his maximum," Bevcevic asserted. "He has a very big margin for improvement." Nonetheless, Bavcevic made the 20-year-old among the youngest team captains in the ULEB Cup, perhaps even the youngest in first-division European basketball. Why? "His best quality," explained Bavcevic, "is his mentality. He's a great sportsman, a great professional and a great guy. It's not important the player's age, but the player's maturity. He is already very mature mentally. He's ready for the big challenges ahead, but he has to work."

Bavcevic found Hervelle three years ago, when he was a rail-thin 16-year old playing center in Belgium's fourth division. He immediately saw Hervelle's enormous potential and he was struck by Hervelle's intelligence. Soon after, Bavcevic brought him to Verviers-Pepinster and as Hervelle matured physically Bavcevic began to rely more and more on him. Hervelle's teammate on the Belgian National Team, Tomas Van Den Spiegel, thinks the sky is the limit for Hervelle. "I practiced with him during the summer of 2001 and he wasn't ready to make an impact in Belgium's first division," says Van Den Spiegel. "But since then he has made so much progress that there is no saying where his game will stop." Van Den Spiegel notes that there are very few small forwards with his size and rebounding ability, but at the moment he plays more as a power forward. "I wouldn't want to put pressure on him by making some kind of prediction about his career, but if he can learn to play as a three-four then he has the chance to become a great player," Van Den Spiegel said.

Hervelle himself avoids stating his specific goals beyond saying "I want to be the best". His biggest objective, he says, is "reaching my maximum level." He says that if he focuses on himself, people might think he is not focused on his team, that he is playing for the future. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Bavcevic cautions about agents and others interested in catching Hervelle's rising star who already shower him with attention. "I don't think that he will be naïve and accept everything. His head is on his shoulders not in the clouds," Bavcevic says. "Many players arrive at his level and then don't go any further. The main reason that players with great potential do not improve is mental. Most players don't have the mentality that allows them go to that next level. Axel is a very mature guy mentally, and I think that he will go ahead."

What makes Hervelle such a likeable character is that "he stays down to earth all the time," as Van Den Spiegel says. For example, last summer he played against the top European prospects at the prestigious Reebok Euro Camp in Treviso, Italy. Matched up against the best of the best, Hervelle held his own. But in his mind, the experience only made him realize that he has a lot of work to do. "I know I must continue to work a lot," he reflects. "If I want to be the best, I must work harder."

As his name starts becoming familiar to fans, journalists, scouts and agents throughout Europe, Hervelle deals with the increased expectations by sharpening his focus and worrying only about the challenges awaiting his team in Group D of the ULEB Cup. "I don't worry about the added pressure, and I don't care about what is happening outside our team, what happens in the other teams or what people say about me," Hervelle sais. "I am only focused on the games and my team. I try to work hard to reach my maximum. If my maximum is the NBA, I will go there, but if my maximum is in Europe, then I will be in Europe."