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Recapping Emma Meesseman's breakout winter in Europe

The Mystics are just the next team that will see the benefits of her improved play this past winter.

Stewart W. Small

Emma Meesseman had a terrific European winter season, coalescing into a EuroLeague Women's Championship with UMMC Ekaterinburg last month and the Russian Federation Championship last week. Slipping in and out of rosters, it was umm awesome. She played on three different teams over the last eight months, and I think her off-season has bearing on the question Mystics' fans have had about seeing her break-out this summer.

Meesseman started the 2015-16 offseason with Russian contender Sparta&K

Meesseman played with teammate Stefanie Dolson on that squad during the 2014-15 winter season following the University of Connecticut star's rookie season with the Mystics. Foreshadowing last summer's All-star appearances for the two of them.

During Meesseman's tenure with Sparta&K over the winter, from October through the middle of February, she averaged 15 points and 9 rebounds, shooting 63 percent from the field and nearly 40 percent from three. She then led the team to a 5-1 record in EuroCup Play that earned them a playoff berth.

Meesseman, at 22, was the third oldest player on the team. The guard play on that squad was sketchy, but she had a twin tower in 6'4, 17-year-old Maria Vadeeva. Meesseman was clearly the number one option on that team, but she had some excellent help from the young Russian, as they staved off an onslaught of WNBA player-led-teams.

Meesseman dominated with the Belgian National Team this winter

On the Belgian Cats, Meesseman had little help until fellow Fleming and veteran WNBA alumna Ann Wauters decided to join the team in January. Until Wauters joined the Cats, their team was essentially Meesseman and "spare parts." One prime example of that was her performance last November versus Belarus.

The Cats lost by five in that game *, but Meesseman scored 31 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, shot nine for nine at the free throw line, had 5 assists and 4 steals. [Overall, she shot 70/33/96 percent for her National team. #LockedIn]

She absolutely took over that game. Everyone on that team looked for her, and she delivered. I should note that Meesseman won the 2011 U18 European Championship with a number of the women that are now on the senior national team. So there is clearly comfort and comradery.

Fast forward to the Belgian Cats versus Poland 37 point blowout in February, with Wauters on the squad. In the win, Meesseman scored 29 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and had three blocks. The team continued to look for her, including Wauters. Suddenly, the Belgians look like a potential entrant to the EuroBasket 2017 competition because of performances like that.

Meesseman caps off the winter by winning the EuroLeague and Russian titles with UMMC Ekaterinburg

UMMC was her third team in a little over four months - who had acquired her from Sparta&K shortly after they clinched their EuroCup playoff appearance, a week before the Belgian National team game, on February 13th,

It was a seamless transition. In her first contest, she played 18 minutes, scored 14 points, grabbed 4 rebounds and added a couple steals to the 105-50 beat-down administered by fellow teammates Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, et al.  Meesseman was now on the most talented roster in Europe and shot 65/33/70% for them. She seemed to fit right in. Taurasi looked for Meesseman regularly having two very different and complimentary styles, as this Top Five play from the quarterfinal game illustrates:

There was some consternation as to whether or not being on such a loaded UMMC squad would hamper Meesseman's development as a 'star' in her own right, particularly in regards to the Mystics.

Meesseman's European play will translate to the Mystics this summer

What I have gleaned from watching the European season games that were available to stream, roughly about 37 out of 40 games, was the fact that having a very strong fellow post, like Maria Vadeeva with Sparta&K, Ann Wauters with the Belgian Cats, or in our case, Stefanie Dolson with the Mystics, brings out the best in Meesseman's passing game.

Having a terrific point guard like Kara Lawson last season in Washington or Diana Taurasi in Yekaterinburg brings out the best in her shooting.  Having neither, in the case of the Belgian Cats first game -- but the emotional connection with the team -- brings out her overall best. I don't have to mention to anyone who has watched her play that she has one of the best 'clean up' games in the Association and she punishes teams that lack focus.

Case in point, when Kristi Toliver [LA Sparks point guard] was running the position for UMMC instead of Taurasi, she was so focused on getting her own shot that the rest of the team simply got their Offensive rebounds in. Toliver's shoot first mentality hurt the team and explains why she was the third PG in rotation behind Taurasi and former WNBA point guard Deanna Nolan.

Taurasi comes into a game and takes real pleasure in dishing no-look passes to teammates, noted above. And worth looking at here. She has no trouble getting other players going, and when it's crunch time, she takes over. I don't think anyone in the world would try to assume that role on a Taurasi led team.

But as a team sport, Meesseman provided amazing dividends on both ends of the court, that is why she averaged 25 minutes a game and was a starter several times. So much so, that the management for UMMC mentioned that they had long-term plans for her.

I think that the fact that she played for the Phoenix Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello contributed to her early extension with the Mystics. #DIBS

Regardless of what people think about European play, there isn't another team I can think of that had as much talent as that UMMC squad with 19 All-star appearances and seven WNBA championships between them.  Are the Mystics comparable at any position to a UMMC?  No, not yet.

But Meesseman is the lynch pin to their development. In her very short professional career, she has had the benefit of being around some of the absolute best in the business. Just like Stefanie Dolson. Working for Geno Auriemma is a gold star on your resume, and Meesseman can say the same thing now. On a professional level.

In a 2014 Washington Post article, Kara Lawson said this about Meesseman:

"It’s crazy," Lawson said. "She’d be a college senior this year. She’d probably be the number one pick in the draft if she was a college senior. She’s only going to get better and better." A year later she was an All-star.

It's unlikely that Meesseman will be a volume scorer like an Angel McCoughtry or an Elena Della Donne, this season. I do not see her launching indiscriminate attempts with diminishing returns. That is not her game.

The things that Meesseman brings to the table is stifling defense, unparalleled court vision, a ridiculous shooting percentage, and an energy level/game face [she never runs away from her shot] that has been unmatched on the Mystics.  Dolson came into training camp in great shape by all reports. We will need her to produce her All-Star best to match the level of play that Meesseman has become accustomed to.

The whole team needs to match the intensity with which Meesseman had to face walking on to a UMMC team and a Belgian team that had EVERYTHING on the line.

Did she produce in crunch moments? Yes. Will she with the Mystics when they need her to? Yes.

For all intents and purposes, she is on the Sparta&K of the WNBA. Very good. But not good enough as a team to win a championship.

Emma Meesseman has broken out. The Mystics are just the next team to see the dividends

To me, it is crystal clear. Every coach knows who she is and plans around her. I think Coach Thibault is exactly right in expecting that everyone on the team become 10 percent better. Will the rest of the team step up? That is the real question. I would very much like to think so. She can not do it alone.

* There were two games last season that the Mystics lost by TWO to the Chicago Sky back-to-back, Meesseman doing everything within her power to win.  Who is going to join her?