Astronomy student shines with Donar

Cramming and jamming

Eat, train, study, sleep. First-year astronomy student Sjoerd Koopmans does not just live like a top athlete, he is one. At basketball club Donar, the current Dutch champions, he is on the first team.
By Koen Marée / Photography by Traci White / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Sjoerd Koopmans combines playing basketball at top club Donar with studying astronomy.

He trains approximately ten times a week and plays two to three games in that same time period and therefore has no choice but to live a highly disciplined life.

Donar also plays in Europe. This week, the student will travel to Lisbon, and in January he will go to Sofia in Bulgaria and Krasnoyarsk, Russia.

His Donar team consists of six other Dutch people, five Americans, and one Croatian.

When he was younger, he travelled many a kilometre between home, school, and basketball training. He compensated the lost energy with quite a few sandwiches.

According to Anjo Mekel, assistant coach at Donar, he tends to get too much into his own head in the field. It is something he sees a lot in intelligent players.

Reading time: 6 minutes (1,242 words)

As a little boy, Sjoerd Koopmans (19) already loved basketball. Back when Donar was still called MPC Capitals, he had his own permanent seat at games, in front of the biggest fans who bring their own drums to the games. When he was eight, he joined the local basketball club in Haren. He already knew how to handle a ball from the hours he spent playing basketball with his brother Ate. Little Sjoerd was immediately placed in a higher team and ended up with the older boys.

In 2016 he is once again one of the ‘youngsters’ of the team. Koopmans has been part of Donar’s top team since the beginning of this season. That means he trains once or twice a day, attends game meetings, video analyses, and of course, games – in both the Dutch league and the FIBA Europe Cup. Wednesday night is the away game against the Portuguese team Benfica.

Lots of sandwiches

When he was thirteen, Koopmans joined Donar’s youth team, which was later absorbed into the Regional training centre North. There, he made his way through all the Under 20 teams. ‘I trained every afternoon and three mornings a week. It was really a way for me to become a better player. I did a lot of cycling in that time. The training took place in ACLO in north of the city, I live in the south of the city and went to school in Haren.’

‘I ate a huge amount of sandwiches in that time’, the student says, laughing. ‘Three for breakfast, seven to take to school, and another two before training. Supplemented by a good evening meal.‘ He did get tired sometimes, of course: ‘I had to really spread out my energy, and I still do that. Luckily the Zernike College allowed me to resit tests and miss classes.’

American interest

Two years ago, Koopmans made his debut in Donar’s first team at age 17. He was on the bench during the game against Aris Friesland when the then coach, Croatian Ivica Skelin, loudly called his name. ‘I immediately jumped up, thinking I was joining the game. But it was a misunderstanding; he wanted to know which offensive strategies I knew. Once I had told him I was allowed to join the game a little after that. It was really special. The crowd knew that a young guy from their own youth team was making his debut and they were extra noisy.’


Height 195 cm
Height with his arms up 240 cm
Shoe size 47.5 (UK 14)
Skills driving to the basket, defensive positional play
Idol Kevin Durant (United States, Golden State Warriors)
Nickname Shamrock. ‘My teammate Lance Jeter associated me with Ireland because of my red hair and that’s how he came up with Shamrock. Now they always call me that in the locker room.’

This was towards the end of the season. He played a few more minutes here and there, graduated high school and decided to set out into the world. After that summer, he moved to Spain, where his gap year was all about basketball. He developed his game at the Canaries Basketball Academy, made international friends, and hoped for a scholarship to an American university. He did get offers from the world’s biggest basketball country. ‘But I wanted to study at a high level, so I decided to return to Groningen.’

He took the plunge and called Martin de Vries, technical director at Donar, himself. ‘I asked: “Is there any chance of me joining the first team?” He was enthusiastic and the subsequent conversation with head coach Erik Braal also went well. I trained with the first team and played a few games here and there. In addition, I get in more playing time with the Under 24 team. I’m living life like a professional. The European trips and away games are also really well taken care of. I don’t have to bring my own sandwiches, because the club provides a meal.’

Regular player

‘So far I’ve been able to combine it with my studies. I try to attend as many of the seminars that take place between 1 and 3 p.m. so I don’t really have a permanent group. Sometimes I miss classes, but I make up for that with studying. European trips lend themselves to that really well, since you’re stuck in a hotel for hours on end. One of my teammates will sometimes ask what I’m doing. But when I tell them I study astronomy, they think it’s pretty cool and respect it.’

‘The combination of the two can be a bit much, but I have no shortage of motivation. I can easily get charged up for both basketball and studying. Do I still dream of America? They have the NBA, but that’s an unattainable goal. You have to be over two metres tall and be able to jump over a metre high. At Donar I’m one of the youngest players and I don’t play that much, but I would eventually like to become a regular player in the selection. One of the starting five or the first substitute would be good, because that way I would be able to play at least half a game.’

Proud of Sjoerd

Anjo Mekel, assistant coach at Donar, has known Koopmans for seven years. ‘I’ve known him ever since he appeared on our radar as a 12-year-old at the Basketball Academy – which is now the Regional training centre North. He is a great guy, there’s nothing bad about him. He doesn’t make excuses, and I think that over the past few years he only missed a handful of training sessions. Both his talent and his intelligence are above average. The other day there was a mathematical formula in the Volkskrant. I didn’t get it, but it made him laugh.’

‘The way he manages to combine studying and basketball is really something. Basketball has to come first, he can’t just back out on his commitment to us. And yet he manages to combine the two. I do think there should be better arrangements for top athletes at the RUG, though. Take America for instance, or other countries. We are missing a few crucial steps here. For example, there are top athletes at the RUG who take two years to complete the courses for one academic year. That needs changing.’

‘Sjoerd is not an exceptional talent. He works hard, plays effectively and needs to focus on the position of shooting guard, although his shot isn’t good enough for that yet. He needs to work on that. His intellect gets in the way sometimes as well. He wants to reason things out too much, when he should just trust his instincts. During training sessions he would be a bit dreamy and absent-minded sometimes. I would get the team together and make the standard joke: “Who will be our first substitute today?” “Sjoerd!” everyone would yell. But with his sense of humour he’s able to deal with stuff like that really well.’

‘I’m very proud that he made it to the first team. Only one in 12 guys in each year manage that. Now he just needs to follow through and continue to progress. He’s got a lot of growing to do still, and he is getting better. He knows his place within the team, but he can also hold his own and is one of the guys. He’s certainly got potential to become of real value to the team.’

Anjo Mekel is an assistant coach at Donar and the former head trainer at the Regional training centre North


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