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Belgium vs. Belarus women’s basketball preview: Meesseman & the Cats aim to get closer to a EuroBasket berth on Saturday

The Belgium women’s basketball team has their biggest stars ready to go. The Belarusians, not so much.

Basketball - Olympics: Day 8
Belarusian post Anastasiya Verameyenka of Fenerbahce will have her hands full against the Belgians’ post duo.
Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

The Belgium women’s national team hasn’t made EuroBasket since 2007. But this weekend, we’ll see if The Belgian Cats can punch their tickets to the continental tournament from June 16-27 in the Czech Republic.

There are two qualifier games left, the first one against 2016 Olympic participant Belarus. Here’s a preview and an FAQ on this whole EuroBasket thing.

Game Info

Who’s playing: Belgium vs. Belarus

Where: Hall Octave Henry in Namur*, Wallonia, Belgium

Date and Time: Saturday, November 19, 2016, 2 p.m. ET

Streaming: FIBA’s YouTube channel. THIS IS THE LIVE STREAM LINK.

What’s at stake?

The Belgians are in Group G of EuroBasket Women Qualifiers. They are currently third place out of three, but they are the only team who fully controls its destiny in the group.

The winner of this group automatically gets into EuroBasket Women 2017. The second place winner of this group gets in if their record is at least sixth best among all of the second place teams in the rest of the groups.

Which Belgian players should we keep our eyes on besides Meesseman?

WNBA: Los Angeles Sparks at Minnesota Lynx
Ann Wauters won a WNBA title last season with the LA Sparks.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Meesseman is the cornerstone and the franchise player for the Belgian Cats. No one is going to question that based on her play so far in these qualifiers.

Still, every franchise player needs help. So here are some of the players you should keep an eye on:

Ann Wauters, 6’5 C (36 years old)

Wauters was the first pick of the 2000 WNBA Draft where spent time on and off again with the Cleveland Rockers, New York Liberty, San Antonio Stars, and Seattle Storm before playing for the Los Angeles Sparks last season as a backup. She is playing this season for Agu Spor Kayseri in Turkey.

Wauters is from Sint-Gillis-Waas**, East Flanders. It is very close to Zeeland in the Netherlands. From reading Flemish sports articles over the past few months, Wauters is still held in very high regard. So expect the Cats to look up to Wauters like the Wizards did to Paul Pierce in the 2014-15 season. That’s for good reason since Wauters is a five-time European player of the year.

Julie Allemand, 5’8 G (20 years old)

Allemand was the 33rd pick in the 2016 Draft to the Indiana Fever though she did not report to camp. She is the starting point guard for Belgian power Castors Braine based in Braine-l’Alleud***, the same team that Mystics 2016 rookie Kahleah Copper is on. Allemand was born in Liège****, the cultural center of Wallonia and arguably the “waffle capital of the world.”

Allemand is averaging 6.3 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists in Belgian league play so she’ll be tasked with orchestrating the biggest performances in her career this weekend. For all the talk about Meesseman being young ... well ... Allemand is just 20. The best of her play is yet to come.

Kim Mestdagh, 5’10 G (26 years old)

Mestdagh is head coach Philip Mestdagh’s daughter, and her younger sister Hanne (Hah-nuh) is also on the national team. But Kim has an accomplished resume in her own right.

Yes, she’s European, but Mestdagh knows plenty about the American game. She played college basketball at Colorado State from 2008-2012. She started most of the games in her NCAA career and was All First team in the MWC her senior year. Hanne also played at CSU, and even her older brother Robin played college basketball at Eastern Kentucky.

Mestdagh plays for French League power Flammes Carolo Basket Ardennes where Seattle Storm forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis also plays. Flammes is also doing well in EuroCup play. Mestdagh is a sharp shooter but also a decent playmaker so she can play both guard positions, at least based on American standards. The Belgians will be known for their star frontcourt, but Mestdagh’s play and scoring will be critical for the backcourt.

Like most of the players on the Belgian Cats, Mestdagh is Flemish. And like Meesseman, she’s from Ieper, West Flanders.

Antonia Delaere, 5’11 G (22 years old)

Delaere (De-la-eh-ruh) plays for Castors Braine where she starts alongside the aforementioned Allemand and Copper. She is averaging 12 points in Belgian League play on 61 percent shooting. She’s also dishing 4 assists per game. She was born in Antwerp, the biggest city in Flanders. It’s about half an hour north of Brussels and as quick as half and hour away from Rotterdam, Netherlands via high speed train.

I’m trying hard not to fall too much in love with the assist line stats here, but it seems that the Belgians like playing a style of basketball that involves a lot of passing to the open man. This seems to be the type of basketball that Meesseman is used to when she’s home.

Oh God, Belarus is an Olympic team. Aren’t they just going to run over unranked Belgium?

Last year, they squeaked by Belgium 76-71 at home at full strength while the Belgians didn’t have Wauters onboard yet.

Yes, Belarus made the Olympics last summer. However, according to FIBA Europe, both of their top players: Yelena Leuchanka and Lindsey Harding won’t be there. Harding actually retired last summer from the WNBA. Therefore, this team looks a bit vulnerable and quite beatable to be honest.

In regard to the FIBA rankings, they are based on a point system over the last four years. Belgium has no points because they played in no Olympics, World Cups, or EuroBaskets in the last four years. Until they make an appearance, they won’t be ranked. Therefore, rankings matter, but don’t take them like they are the Gospel.

Why should Mystics fans care about the Belgian women’s national basketball team’s performance?

It’s because Meesseman plays for them. If they make EuroBasket, the tournament will be held in June during the middle of the 2017 WNBA season.

That means if Belgium makes EuroBasket, Meesseman will miss some games. It’s going to set the Mystics back from a wins and loss perspective.

It’s unclear as to how much time Meesseman will miss. She may miss a little over a week if she is gone during group play and if Belgium is quickly eliminated. But it could be two weeks or half the season if the Belgians make a big run.

Should we root for Belgium even though their potential EuroBasket participation hurts the Mystics?

Overall, we should root for Belgium.

If Meesseman were an American, most of us would want to see her on Team USA winning the Gold Medal in the FIBA Americas tournament, the World Cup, or the Olympics, right? Also, Ted Leonsis has generally been supportive of his players playing for their national teams, at least with the Capitals and Wizards. He should be supportive of her on a personal level, like he would with Alex Ovechkin for Russia or Marcin Gortat for the Polish men’s basketball team in EuroBasket 2015.

That said, EuroBasket will be held during the WNBA regular season and the league won’t pause the season for EuroBasket Women 2017. Currently, there aren’t many WNBA players who are affected by this because of a combination of these reasons:

  • European nationals generally don’t play in the WNBA, even if they’re WNBA caliber. For now, Meesseman is the exception, not the rule when it comes to European players having major roles on WNBA teams.
  • Americans who play for European national teams aren’t good enough to be on the USA Basketball women’s national team. They also aren’t stars on their WNBA teams, so it’s not like the WNBA will lose TV ratings.

I was happy about Bradley Beal not playing for Team USA last summer because it was in the Wizards’ best interest. Is it understandable if I want Belarus and Poland to win instead because it’s in the Mystics’ best interest?

It is understandable, though the Belgians probably wouldn’t like you for it. And for what it’s worth, the Mystics haven’t been that vocal about these qualifiers either. So don’t be surprised if they’re secretly rooting for the Belarusians and the Poles to take care of business, for their self interest of course.

I’m not trying to insinuate that the Mystics want to see Belgium lose to Belarus and Poland. But again, it is in their interest to see Meesseman report to training camp on time and be ready for a full season.

If Belgium doesn’t make EuroBasket, it will be a big disappointment for Meesseman personally, so expect to see her really pissed off about it. Maybe “pissed off Emma” is the key for the Mystics to get to the next level, and a fun narrative to write about.

Though I am sympathetic with those who would rather see Meesseman in D.C. for all of next season, even if it means rooting for Belarus and Poland to win, I’d rather see her lead Belgium to EuroBasket Women 2017 anyway.

Until we see otherwise, Belgium is the only team that truly optimizes Meesseman’s overall talent out of necessity, especially as a scorer. In fact, Meesseman’s the leading overall scorer in FIBA Europe heading into these final qualifying matches. That’s the role she needs to be more accustomed to here for the Mystics, and for UMMC in Russia.

Who wins the game?

The Belgians are at home in Namur, and they destroyed Poland last February, 100-63. I smell a close upset for the Cats on Saturday.

P.S.: Notes on Belgian City Names

It’s not uncommon in Belgium to see cities with two or sometimes three different names because the Dutch and French languages both have influence on the country.

To that end, here are the alternative names for the hometowns of the players I mentioned. Both names (Dutch or French) are correct, though I generally sided with what part of the country they are from:

* Namur is the French name, but in Dutch, it’s Namen.

** Sint-Gillis-Waas is the Dutch name, but in French, it’s Saint-Gilles-Waes.

***Braine l’Alleud is the French name, but in Dutch, it’s Eigenbrakel.

**** Liège is the French name, but in Dutch, it’s Luik. In German, it’s Lüttich.

For the major cities, Brussels is the English name for Brussel (Dutch) and Bruxelles (French). Antwerp is the English name for Antwerpen (Dutch) and Anvers (French).

And Ieper, the most major Belgian city of all because of Mystics reasons, has a French name too. It is Ypres.