Sebastien Bellin recovering in Brussels

Sam Schlenner

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He was one of the photos of the day. A handsome man with jet-black, cropped hair. The same color grime marred his face, mostly on the right cheek and forehead, although maybe that’s just shadow. His black coat hangs open to reveal a black shirt beneath. He’s lying on the ground, lower back on top of one side of what appears to be a piece of ceiling. He cranes his neck up to check. To check it all. 

Sebastien Bellin, a former Oakland basketball player, was awaiting a flight from Brussels to New York the morning of March 22 when he was seriously injured in the airport bombing.

“I have been through four surgeries already, and never thought I’d be this lucky,” Bellin said in a Golden Grizzlies news release. “When I was in the ambulance and knew I was going to make it, I began to think about my legs and if I was going to lose them, or just one. I thought I could handle having just one prosthetic leg, but not two. But, I knew being alive was the most important thing. Now, to hear that I will walk again and have both my legs, I feel extremely blessed.”

He’ll receive his fifth surgery — which includes skin grafts for his legs — on April 12. Then he will rehab for six to eight weeks. His father, stepmother, two brothers and wife were with him, but they’ve had to go.

A family friend set up a GoFundMe campaign to help with the Bellin family’s expenses.

“I expect to see him soon come walking into the O’rena,” Oakland men’s basketball head coach and Bellin’s former coach Greg Kampe said. “Maybe not too soon. But eventually, I’m going to see him come walking into the O’rena.”

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“I don’t even remember how I found out about him,” Kampe said. “We were in the Division I transition and we needed size. He was 6-foot-10. He definitely had size.”

This was in the late ‘90s. Almost two decades before Brussels. Sébastien Bellin was at Marist College. He wasn’t happy. Kampe recruited him. Got to know his family. His dad had grown up in Europe but was then a businessman living in the United States.

“My first impression of Seb was probably no different than most players’,” Kampe said. “He was a limited big man who had good offensive skills but wasn’t real mobile at the time.”

But he had two quality years at Oakland.

“He left and went to Belgium even though he had one year left,” Kampe said. “And it worked out really good for him.”

He played for 14 seasons, won the Belgian Cup twice, the Belgian League once and was captain of the Belgian National Team for five seasons.

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“My first impressions were hey man, I like the size,” Bellin’s former Oakland teammate Dan Champagne said. “Happy to have him.”

Bellin was good, he said.

“But nobody around here probably really remembers Seb as the basketball player,” Champagne said. “They remember him as just the best guy. Big heart. Good guy. Good friend. Everyone liked to hang out with him.”

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“He’s been playing professional basketball for 14 years and every summer he comes home and he works my camp,” Kampe told WXYZ’s Brad Galli two days after the terrorist attack that killed 32. “What guy at that level wants to work your camp?”

“He’s in the sports business now,” Kampe told ESPN’s Andy Katz. “After all our good wins, I’d get an email from him. And after some of the tough losses, I’d get the ‘Hey, what happened, man?’ He’s someone that gave back…. He’s a unique individual. A very very good young man.”

The generosity is not merely past tense. He was helping Max Hooper get a gig in Europe, according to the ESPN piece. He was going to sit down with him after the trip from Belgium.

“He has quite a few connections in the overseas basketball world,” Hooper said. “I’m not exactly sure how he went about it, but he sought out a team for me…who needed a shooter.”

“That’s who Seb was, man,” Kampe said to Katz. “And that’s what the family’s about.”