Devon Van Oostrum remembers watching as a 17-year-old Ricky Rubio led Spain against Team USA in the 2008 Beijing Olympics finals. In fact, he can do you one better. “I actually watched it the other day,” said Van Oostrum. “I’d love to play a game like that.”
Spain lost the Gold Medal Game 118-107, but Rubio used that window to grab the world’s attention. Finally, fans and skeptics alike had something to go on besides pixilated YouTube clips and hyperbole. If everything goes according to plan, Great Britain’s 19-year-old point guard will have his crack at Olympic glory soon enough, and he will have it on home soil. But Van Oostrum, who plays his pro ball for Tarragona in Spain’s second division, knows these Olympics are more than just a chance to shake hands with basketball’s general public. Instead, he sees each game as an opportunity to recruit another British citizen into fandom.
“If we do well and compete with the teams, I think people could fall in love with the game.” The luxuries of homecourt are accompanied by an equal amount of burden, however, and Van Oostrum knows that the pressure is mounting. While knocking off a Spain or Argentina could send British basketball screaming down the tracks, a poor showing could leave the game stranded at the station. “I worry about that a little bit, but I know that we’re going to do well. We’ve been working toward this for two years now,” he conceded.
He’s confident. That much is clear after an hour-long conversation. He will also be nervous. That much is normal. Surprisingly, Van Oostrum says the weight of his nation’s flag and those colorful Olympic rings will have little to do with his anxiety. “I’m nervous for every game. If it’s pick-up or...whatever. First touch of the ball, I’m always nervous,” he said. He appreciates the nerves, feeds off of them even. “It keeps me on my toes, keeps me ready. It shows me that I still like this game. That I love this game,” he explained.
“But as soon as I catch that first pass and take that first dribble, they go away. And then I’m comfortable.” Van Oostrum got plenty comfortable at the 2011 U20 European Championship in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, putting up 13.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and a team-leading 5 assists per game. Great Britain’s head coach Chris Finch took notice and invited Devon to Lithuania the following month to play in EuroBasket 2011 with the senior club. He played in only three of Great Britain’s five group games in Panevezys, registering 52 minutes and four points in all, but last summer was about more than statistics. It was about catching his first pass, taking his first dribble. It was about getting comfortable.
“I always had that in mind that if I wanted to play in the Olympics, EuroBasket was a must,” said Van Oostrum. “I’m glad I got it under my belt, playing against Ricky Rubio and all of those guys.” Playing against Rubio in Lithuania, duplicating his Beijing breakout this summer in London? With Van Oostrum’s role on GB’s national team still hazy, it’s still too early to know. All we do know is that he will be nervous. And that’s just how he likes it.