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2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup qualifiers preview: Belgium looks to clinch second consecutive berth

The big day is here! Let’s go through Group D of the qualifiers and what’s at stake!

BASKET OLYMPIC QUALIFICATION TOURNAMENT BELGIUM VS CANADA
The Belgium women’s basketball team begins their run for a second World Cup today.
Photo by VIRGINIE LEFOUR/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

Today is Thursday of Emma Meesseman Week. It’s a big day for her because the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup qualifiers begin today, here in D.C.! Here is our preview of the teams in Group D.


The Schedule

Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022 at ESA

  • Belgium vs. Puerto Rico, 4:30 p.m. ET

Friday, Feb. 11, 2022 at ESA

  • United States vs. Belgium, 6:30 p.m. ET

Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022 at ESA

  • United States vs. Puerto Rico, 4:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022 in the Dominican Republic

  • Russia vs. Belgium, 3:30 p.m. ET

Monday, Feb. 14, 2022 in the Dominican Republic

  • Russia vs. Puerto Rico, 6 p.m. ET

No. 6 Belgium

What is their nickname? The Belgian Cats, regardless of language. (They aren’t called De Belgische Katten by the Dutch speakers or Les Chats Belges by the French ones).

Why are they here? They were the third-place team in Women’s EuroBasket last year.

Who’s the most notable player on Team Belgium? COME ON GUYS! WHOSE WEEK IS IT!?

Who left Team Belgium? Head coach Philip Mestdagh was let go (or fired, depending on whose side you believe) after the Olympics, where the Cats were eliminated in the quarterfinals despite having a rather clear path to the Gold Medal game given their talent. Team captain and former WNBA No. 1 Draft pick Ann Wauters has retired. Kim Mestdagh, a former Mystic has not played in the Cats’ qualification games for Women’s EuroBasket 2023 this past fall.

What’s at stake? Since Philip Mestdagh’s departure, the Cats have hired ASVEL Lyon head coach Valery Demory to lead the national team. The Cats have started their 2023 Women’s EuroBasket qualifications on the wrong foot, losing a second time in just a few months to Bosnia and Herzegovina (the country WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones represents), 87-81 on Nov. 11. In that game, Jones scored 44 points while Meesseman had an 18 point night herself, but was not as dominant. They are currently 1-1 in their group for qualification.

These current qualifiers will give the Cats one more chance to make a World Cup while Meesseman is in her prime. Belgium is no longer the Cinderella that the women’s basketball world is talking about. While they are now a world power, the Cats still haven’t broken the “beer glass ceiling” of making a finals appearance in EuroBasket or a world tournament — and they have lost to teams that they probably shouldn’t have, like Japan in the Olympics.

Who to watch? Emma ... DUH!

But I’d also look at Chicago Sky point guard Julie Allemand and former WNBA point guard Hind Ben Abdelkader. Allemand made the All-Rookie team for the Fever in the 2020 season before she was traded to Chicago. And Ben Abdelkader has played both in NCAA Division I (at Cal) and the WNBA, but for some reason, she never made the Cats’ roster until now. That said, expect Ben Abdelkader to back up Allemand, who is generally regarded as the second-best player on the team.

No. 1 United States

What is their nickname? Team USA or The Americans

Why are they here? The USA won the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and will participate in the 2022 World Cup. They still have to compete in the qualifiers, which makes these games friendlies from a FIBA perspective.

Who left Team USA since the Olympics? Head coach Dawn Staley will not return for the 2024 games in Paris. Sue Bird has retired from international play. Diana Taurasi hasn’t ruled out continuing her international career but won’t be playing in the qualifiers.

What is at stake? This is Head Coach Cheryl Reeve’s first time as Team USA’s head coach. It’s her opportunity to implement her ideas for the American team in a “safe space” where she can take some risks that otherwise may not happen in a game with a berth or medal on the line. For the American players, younger players will get an opportunity to play against two of FIBA Europe’s better squads, both of whom are likely advancing to Australia.

Who to watch? Washington Mystics guard Ariel Atkins. She played sparingly in the Olympics but will likely have a larger role, and she’ll be in front of her home team fans. In addition, former Mystics (and now-New York Liberty) center Stefanie Dolson is on the team. The rest of the roster is here.

No. 12 Russia

What is their nickname? Like the USA, they’re just Team Russia or the Russians.

Why are they here? They were the sixth-place team in Women’s EuroBasket last year.

Who are Russia’s most notable players? UMMC Ekaterinburg forward Maria Vadeeva and Dynamo Kursk forward Raisa Musina are Russia’s biggest stars. Vadeeva played one season for the Los Angeles Sparks in 2018 but isn’t on this qualifies es team apparently. So Musina is whom I’d watch.

What’s at stake? Russia has been going through the exact opposite situation Belgium has in the last 5-10 years. They were a world power in the 2000s but have lost a step. Russia hasn’t made the semifinals of EuroBasket since 2013, hasn’t made the World Cup since 2014, and haven’t made the Olympics since 2012. Despite their decline in Europe over the last decade, the Russians are still the 12th ranked country in the world and this is a favorable group for them to break their World Cup drought.

Why isn’t Russia playing in D.C.? The Russians had visa complications due to coronavirus vaccine requirements to enter the USA. Russia primarily uses its domestic vaccines, such as the Sputnik V to combat COVID-19, which the CDC doesn’t recognize. They will play both of their games in the Dominican Republic against Belgium and Puerto Rico starting next Monday which will give them a significant rest advantage.

Meesseman was not happy about it, to say the least.

No. 18 Puerto Rico

What is their nickname? 12 Magnificas or 12 Guerreras

Why are they here? They were the silver medalists in the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup last year.

Who are Puerto Rico’s most notable players? Of the players on the 2020 Olympic team, Jazmon Gwathmey is a native of Fauquier County, Va., was a three-year CAA Player of the Year at James Madison during her college career from 2012-16, and played three years in the WNBA. Jennifer O’Neill played one season with the Minnesota Lynx in 2015 after a four-year college career at Kentucky. Allison Gibson was a four-year player for Oregon State from 2011-15. Most of the Puerto Rican players have played at the NCAA Division I level before moving on to their professional careers. Gwathmey and O’Neill were AmeriCup’s two overall leading scorers and they are the players to watch.

Why does Puerto Rico have its own national team, when it’s part of the USA? In short, the International Olympic Committee team can unilaterally decide whether any country or region can have its own Olympic team, regardless of whether it’s a sovereign state. While Puerto Ricans are Americans and can play for Team USA, they also can still play for Puerto Rico specifically if they choose to do so.

There are some other countries/territories with their own Olympic team despite the fact that they aren’t sovereign states. For example, Aruba is part of the Netherlands but has its own Olympic committee instead of competing with the Dutch. Bermuda and the Cayman Islands are part of the United Kingdom but don’t compete as part of Team Great Britain. Taiwan and the State of Palestine aren’t recognized as sovereign states by the United Nations, but they also have their own Olympic teams, with the Taiwanese competing as “Chinese Taipei.” Guam and the US Virgin Islands also have their own Olympic delegations despite the fact that they are American citizens like Puerto Ricans.

What’s at stake? The Puerto Ricans are coming off their first Olympic berth last year and their first World Cup berth in 2018. Of the three teams competing for a World Cup berth this year, they will be the underdogs on paper. But since most of this team is made up of professional players who went to college at NCAA Division I programs, they could still pull off an upset against Belgium or Russia, though defeating Team USA will still be a tall endeavor.


Who makes the World Cup from Group D besides the USA?

While Puerto Rico could make things interesting during a game, I anticipate that Belgium and Russia will move on to the World Cup.