Belgium clinched a EuroBasket Women 2017 spot and won Group G in qualifiers last Wednesday. For fans of the Belgian Cats in Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels, it’s a big deal. It is for the Mystics as well, but for different reasons. Belgium’s success creates some uncertainty because Emma Meesseman will miss some time next season for the tournament. It’s unclear as to how much time she will miss right now, but it still sets them back nevertheless.
Whether it’s because Meesseman is Belgian or because she never played college basketball in America, she has been an enigma of sorts within the WNBA. Yes, she has emerged as the Mystics’ best player over the last four years. But she still hasn’t broken through as a superstar among American women’s basketball fans and is often under-appreciated, even in Washington.
So I was intrigued last Saturday when Hans Jacobs of De Standaard, a Brussels-area Dutch language newspaper, interviewed Meesseman and Los Angeles Sparks center Ann Wauters ahead of their game against Belarus in Namur. The article is here, and only in Dutch.
With content in Dutch, that sounds daunting on the surface. Fortunately for me at least, I learned some Dutch from Flemish coworkers over the years. So this was a way for me to continue learning another language. Though I got the main point of the article and what Meesseman and Wauters were talking about, I’m not a native or fluent writer/speaker.
But thanks to the worldwide fanbase that the Wizards have, we do have our share of fans from the Netherlands and Belgium. One of them, Mark de Rijk helped us out in translating it, especially portions I did not fully understand. Again, a huge thanks to Mark!
In Jacobs’ interview, there was a portion of the interview that caught my eye right away with two main takeaways.
No, Meesseman doesn’t think she is a better three point shooter than Stephen Curry
Jacobs asked Meesseman a question in regard to The Wall Street Journal comparing her shooting efficiency to Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry. Here’s the translated quote:
Jacobs: Emma, you didn’t win the title but you were still one of the WNBA’s stars. Just to quote: The Wall Street Journal compared you to [sharpshooter] Stephen Curry of the NBA. He shot 45.4 percent [in the 2015-16 NBA season], you shot 45.5 percent [in the 2016 WNBA season]. Nobody in the WNBA shot better.
Meesseman: That was an exaggeration. I don’t want to compare myself with Curry. If somebody only tries two 3 pointers and makes both shots, that would a 100 percent shot rate. In comparison with the real sharp shooters, I am not at that level.
We addressed that the Wall Street Journal’s article was exaggerating things as well, even if the shout out was a cool honor. When Meesseman was talking about someone who “only tries two 3 pointers,” she is likely referring to herself. In 2016, she attempted 67 threes in 34 games, just shy of two per game for the season. Meesseman made 30 threes, which isn’t quite one three a game.
Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird was second in the league in three point percentage where she made 44.5 percent of her long shots. She made 72 threes out of 162 attempts in 34 games, good for fourth most in the league. Bird made and took over twice as many shots as Meesseman, and her shooting percentage was really close.
Basically, Meesseman was acknowledging that players like Bird among others are better three point shooters than her. Three point shooting efficiency alone doesn’t necessarily make her the best at it.
Meesseman doesn’t want to play “The American Way” because picking her spots is more effective
Right after Meesseman mentioned her point about about three point shooting efficiency, Wauters said something quite interesting. Though she didn’t mention him by name, Mystics head coach Mike Thibault told her to encourage Meesseman to do what many of us want her to do: take more shots. Here’s the quote:
Wauters: It’s still great as to what you have accomplished. When I meet her coach [Mike Thibault] he says: ‘Ann, please talk to Emma. She has to attempt many more shots (laughs). Tell her that that she should shoot every time.’
Meesseman: I just pick my shots. Always going for shots -- that's American. I don't go for dumb shots.
Wauters: You are just super-efficient. Emma can and will be even better. She has fantastic instincts when it comes to being on the court. Everything looks so easy and natural with the way she plays.
If there’s one part of Meesseman’s game that can use improvement, it’s her overall scoring. Though she is arguably one of the most efficient scorers from anywhere on the court, she takes considerably fewer shots than other top class WNBA frontcourt players like Elena Delle Donne, Maya Moore, and Candace Parker among others. As a result, her scoring numbers are a bit pedestrian. In fact, she wasn’t the leading per-game scorer on her own team.
That said, Meesseman is directly challenging the way we view basketball superstars here in the United States.
Personally, I think the Mystics are trying to emulate a European system so Meesseman will get some more shot opportunities within the flow. But most of the better European players — even if they are WNBA quality — aren’t reliable because they aren’t available due to national team commitments, or they just don’t want to play in America.
Either way, that quote does explain Meesseman’s perceived passiveness. It’s not because she is really passive or afraid to take shots. But rather, she is more of a perfectionist, or wants to take shots only when it’s the best route to take.
What she said about “shot gunning” being American isn’t totally wrong. In America, we want the best player to take the shots, especially when the game is on the line. Thanks to players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, their mentality seems to be the “ideal” when it comes to being a basketball superstar.
Meesseman is the Mystics’ best player, yet it seems like she doesn’t want to dominate in that way. And that causes some tension because she’s essentially told us that she won’t dominate by trying to take a critical shot unless she’s open.
That quote also implies that she’s reluctant to adjust to the WNBA style of play. Granted, the Mystics have taken steps to play to her strengths. But Meesseman has to adjust a bit more to the American way as well in order to move the Mystics forward. European NBA players have done this successfully while still maintaining their core identities, so I don’t see why Meesseman can’t do the same.
Other interesting points
There were some other snippets of note:
- UMMC Ekaterinburg, Meesseman’s overseas team, gives expensive gifts like watches and jewelry to players for their birthdays, with a catch. They team only gives gifts to players whose birthdays are during the season. Meesseman’s birthday came in their offseason, so she didn’t get a gift. That stinks.
- Meesseman’s original goal as a basketball player was to be better than her mother, Sonja Tankrey. Tankrey played for the Belgian National Team in two European Championships in 1980 and 1985. But now, her goal is to surpass Wauters’ achievements, which include being a European Player of the Year and on a WNBA championship team.
- Apparently, a lot of Americans don’t know where Belgium is. They only know it for waffles, which rings a bell.
Another language (not NL) to translation from the Meesse interview. Last line's hard to figure out. We'll talk more on it later. pic.twitter.com/5XxByBfr9U— Bullets Forever (@BulletsForever) November 19, 2016
Overall, I found the interview a good read since it gives more insight on how Meesseman approaches the game as a European.