Note: ElleLovesTennis started this piece with a preview on both Belgium & Turkey, while I added some more notes. Hope you enjoy the read! - Albert
In European basketball, national teams often meet during the middle of the season to get ready for major competitions. In mid-February, European teams will continue their conquest for one of 16 EuroBasket Women 2017 berths through qualifying rounds. The first matches of the qualifiers happened in November. But there will be a match on February 20, and even more this fall.
Of the 16 spots in EuroBasket Women, one is already taken for the Czech Republic who will host the tournament. They are also the seventh-best women's team in the FIBA rankings.
I think it's safe to say that we know who Tomas Satoransky and Jan Vesely will root for next year, but there are two Mystics players who are European citizens. Emma Meesseman plays for Belgium and will practice with them this week. LaToya Sanders -- who signed a free agent extension last week -- plays for Turkey.
What happened so far
Belgium is in Group G, where they will compete against #10 Belarus* and #37 Poland. The Belgian Cats are unranked in the FIBA Women's Rankings, so it looks like they don't have a shot to win the group or get a runner-up berth. But they have Meesseman AND are 14th in the girl's rankings. More on that later.
But here's the silver lining in the Cats' loss. Meesseman scored 31 points and 17 rebounds and went 9 of 9 from the free throw line. Her performance probably caught they eye of another famous Belgian women's basketball player.
In late January, 35-year old Belgian star Ann Wauters decided to join the National team. Wauters was the first pick in the 2000 WNBA Draft and was a 2005 All-Star with the New York Liberty.
Perhaps it was the Cats' tough showing against Belarus that got Wauters to change her mind. Or working with Philip Mestdagh who is coaching her pro team in Belgium, Mithra Castors Braine. (Mestdagh is also the Belgian Cats' head coach.) And finally, perhaps Wauters wants to be a "Paul Pierce-like" figure to Meesseman and the others given that the future is bright for Belgian women's basketball.
Either way, Wauters' announcement is a HUGE MOVE.
Who Belgium plays on February 20
The Belgian Cats will play Poland on Saturday, February 20 at 2 p.m. ET at the Hall Octave Henri in Namur, a city in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium.
Marcin Gortat will root for the other team obviously, but for our selfish purposes, GO BELGIUM!
Another match to watch: The Belgian Cats and the Netherlands' Orange Angels: A rivalry on the rise in FIBA Europe?
The match against Poland counts but the Cats have a friendly against another rising European team to their north.
Belgium will play a friendly on Wednesday, February 17, against the Netherlands at the Sporthallen Zuid in Amsterdam. Gametime is 9:30 a.m. ET. The Dutch team is also using this to tune up for a February 20 game against Estonia in Group B of the EuroBasket Women qualifiers.
Though this game may not count for either the Cats or the Netherlands' Orange Angels, again, this is a match between two rising European teams. The Belgians are 14th in the FIBA girl's rankings while the Dutch are 17th. Neither senior team is currently ranked ... yet.
So.... why hype this game up? Simple. It's because there's a lot of young talent on both teams. After all, the girls on the Belgian and Dutch youth squads will ultimately play on the senior teams. And we expect those rankings to trickle through the senior ranks with time.
There are many players in this game from both Belgium and the Netherlands who have played on a Division I team in the past.
For Belgium, they include Lara Gaspar (Rhode Island), Kim Mestdagh (Colorado State), Hanne Mestdagh (Colorado State), and Hind Ben Abdelkader (Cal). For the Netherlands, they include Natalie van den Adel (Colorado State) and Naomi Halman (UC Irvine). With the exception of Halman, all of the players listed here still haven't hit their 30th birthday yet.
However, some of the Dutch players won't be able to participate due to the NCAA season because they are playing here in the States during the college season. Miami freshman guard Laura Cornelius, Syracuse junior swingman Isabella Slim, and Fordham junior forward Britt Zappeij are three players who the Netherlands will miss for this match.
In summary, with more Belgian and Dutch players being active in the college basketball scene and their high girls' rankings, it's only a matter of time before these two countries become bigger players in FIBA Europe. And Mike Thibault found a gold mine by drafting Meesseman in 2013.
You may be thinking France, Spain, or Russia first when it comes to European women's basketball, but it won't be long until we're thinking Belgium and the Netherlands are also in the picture. You heard it here first.
But even though we gave the Dutch a lot of respect here, you know who we're rooting for in this friendly.
Sanders and the Turkish team are in Group H. Turkey is ranked tenth in the world in the women's rankings and is a group favorite in a pool that includes #45 Israel, #77 Romania, and unranked Bosnia and Herzegovina.
What happened so far
Sanders is the Turkey's leading rebounder, where she averaged 8.5 per game in group play so far. So you know, Sanders' Turkish name is Lara. Another player to keep an eye on for Turkey is Galatsaray point guard Isil Alben, who is one of the best point guards in all of European basketball.
Who Turkey plays on February 20
Turkey will play Romania at 2 p.m. ET in Cluj, Romania. Barring a major collapse, the Turks should defeat Romania and ultimately win the Group. By winning the group, Turkey will clinch a berth in EuroBasket Women 2017 given that they just have a lot more talent than the rest of their group.
We will keep an eye on both Belgium and Turkey when they play their matches next Saturday. To follow everything going on with the EuroBasket Women qualifiers, click here.