For the first time since 2007, Belgium has punched its ticket to EuroBasket Women. Not only that, Belgium also won Group G by defeating Poland 77-61 in Wałbrzych.
Mystics forward Emma Meesseman returned to form with 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists for the Belgians. Ann Wauters had a vintage performance with 16 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists, and Kim Mestdagh added 13 more points. For Poland, Aleksandra Pawlak led her team in scoring with 14 points.
For the most part, there isn’t much to add to what we mentioned last February when the Cats dominated Poland: they outshot them, raced to a comfortable double digit lead in the first half and never looked back.
When it was clear that the Belgians scored more than 45 points in the game to beat Belarus (just in case they lost) and were still leading by double digits, they decided to go into cruise control the rest of the way.
We’ll know what group Belgium is in on December 9, 2016 when the draw is conducted. in Prague, Czech Republic. The Czech Republic will host the tournament from June 16 to 25, 2017.
You can watch the game in its entirety in the video above. Here’s what we learned.
Never hurts to have a veteran keep everyone composed
Wauters was that consistent veteran sage the Belgians needed to stay on track when the Polish tried to make any sort of comeback. Wauters has wavered on whether she’d play for Belgium next summer in EuroBasket Women to begin with. But considering how they looked over the course of qualifiers, I think Wauters will do whatever she can to make it.
Don’t be surprised to see if Belgium can make things interesting next summer
Sometimes, you just feel that a certain team has the elements to make a deeper than expected run. I think Belgium has that “it factor” based on the qualifiers I’ve seen. I don’t think they will win the whole thing, but they have the chemistry to make it to the knockout rounds.
The Mystics’ 2017 season looks uncertain due to Meesseman’s pending absence
The main reason why we paid attention to Belgium’s qualifiers is simple. Meesseman is the Mystics’ best player and is the face of Belgian basketball going forward.
She’s also a European player in quite a unique situation. Unlike most WNBA teams’ best players, Meesseman is not an American and she never played for an NCAA Division I program. In addition, top European nationals have often been hesitant to play in the WNBA due to a combination of reasons, which include national EuroBasket commitments during odd numbered years or the Olympics and World Cup in even numbered years.
In fact, Meesseman hasn’t missed a single game in her WNBA career so far. Part of it is because she’s quickly become a pro’s pro. But another reason is because Belgium hasn’t been a EuroBasket caliber team until now. In 2017, the Mystics are going to be without Meesseman for at least some part of the season. It could be a week, or it could be for half the season ... or more.
Let’s just assume that Meesseman is out for half the season or perhaps the entire season due to training with Belgium and EuroBasket. If that happens, then it appears that LaToya Sanders has the shorter track to assume Meesseman’s role. Sanders is also a power forward, and has been a pesky defender for Washington during the 2015 season. If not, it could open the way for a free agent or a drafted player to take the role for some time.
As great as this accomplishment is for Meesseman personally, the Mystics signed her to a three year contract extension and were looking to build around her as one of their key pieces. But with Belgium now in EuroBasket, we have to acknowledge that this is a setback for the Mystics as they track to bounce back from a 13-21 season last summer. Time will tell as to what they do both short and long term, but I don’t think the Mystics can make the playoffs in 2017 without their star forward on their lineup.
But for now, let’s celebrate with Meesseman! Not too many people would have expected to see Belgium in EuroBasket Women 2017. I didn’t either. So congratulations Emma for getting to EuroBasket!