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EuroBasket Women 2017 preview: Emma Meesseman and the Belgian Cats begin group play on Friday

The EuroBasket Women 2017 tournament starts Friday in Prague, Czech Republic. Mystics forward Emma Meesseman will represent Belgium in the tournament. Here’s our preview:


Belgium plays in Group D of EuroBasket Women. Here’s the pool:

Friday, June 16 Belgium v Montenegro, 12:30 p.m. Local time. GMT +2

Saturday, June 17 Belgium v Russia, 3:00 p.m. Local time. GMT +2

Monday, June 19 Belgium v Latvia, 12:30 p.m. Local time. GMT +2

Streaming or FIBA’s Youtube channel.

What to expect

There are five World Cup spots up for grabs

Winning EuroBasket Women 2017 is an excellent accomplishment for the country that wins it all. However, there’s plenty at stake because five teams will earn 2018 World Cup berths, in addition to Spain, the host nation.

Because five teams earn World Cup spots, the quarterfinals isn’t simply a single elimination tournament. There’s also a consolation bracket for the quarterfinal losers. At a minimum, the 5th place team also wins a berth to the World Cup. But it’s likely that the 6th place team could qualify as well because Spain is a safe bet to make the semifinals anyway.

Serbia is still expected to emerge the winner once again. Mystics fans may recognize Jelena Milovanovic on the national team that won EuroBasket Women last time.

Five other active WNBA players are playing in EuroBasket Women

Many European nationals who play on-again and off-again on WNBA teams sit out when their international teams are in tournaments like EuroBasket Women, the World Cup or the Olympics. Some notable WNBA players like Anna Cruz and Ana Dabovic aren’t on this side of the Atlantic right now to play for Spain and Serbia, respectively.

In that respect, Meesseman has been more of the exception than the norm when she started the season in D.C. She wasn’t the only European to start the season in America, however. Sancho Lyttle of the Atlanta Dream is playing for Spain and also started this season in the WNBA.

There are also some American dual nationals in this tournament. Four American WNBA players hold passports, mostly from the Eastern Bloc, former Yugoslavia, or former Soviet Union countries. This is generally because these countries have better paying basketball leagues than in western Europe. And in some, but not all cases, they often have easier naturalization processes.

Here are the American players who are playing for other teams in EuroBasket Women:

  • Kia Vaughn of the New York Liberty is playing for the Czech Republic, the host country. Things could have been more interesting if she was still playing for the Mystics.
  • Alex Bentley of the Connecticut Sun will play for Belarus.
  • Courtney Vandersloot of the Chicago Sky will play for Hungary.
  • Epiphanny Prince of the New York Liberty will play for Russia.

There are several interesting story lines in Group D

Group D has been called by some pundits as the ‘group of death’. One of the many storylines is that some analysts predict that Belgium will qualify for FIBA’s Women’s World Cup in Spain in 2018. If so, it may have implications for the Mystics next year, if Meesseman chooses to train in Belgium for the summer.

Though they are not expected to win the tournament, Belgium should still make the quarterfinals by beating both Latvia and Montenegro in group play.

But the real test will be going up against a very strong Russian team, whch has Epiphanny Prince in the lineup. Though she’s great of course, she is not the players we look forward to watching the most. They are Maria Vadeeva and Natalia Vieru.

Vadeeva was Meesseman’s teammate on Sparta&K in 2014-15, and Vieru is her current teammate on UMMC Ekaterinburg. There is definitely some familiarity between the Belgians’ and the Russians’ bigs.

2017 also marks the return of Belgium 10 years after their 6th place finish in 2007, and the star of that squad, Ann Wauters has come out of retirement to join Meesseman and Kim Mestdagh, giving them some much needed rebounding and experience.

Mestdagh’s younger sister, Hanne, is also on the team. They are coached by their father Philip Mestdagh. And they all just happen to be from Meesse’s home town of Ieper.

Catching up with the Belgian Cats

The Cats arrived in the Czech Republic earlier this week. It seems like the journey to Prague went well.

And they have already gotten their first practice under their belt on Wednesday.

If the Belgian Cats punch their tickets to Spain, it will take a very focused effort by this relatively young, upstart of a team. It also puts Mystics fans in a bind, because Meesseman could miss more games next year to train with Belgium.

How far can Belgium go?

Belgium should shoot for a quarterfinals appearance and go for a World Cup spot. They have the talent to make it out of the group stage. If they can avoid Spain or another power like France in the quarterfinals, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Belgium make the semifinals. Even if Belgium makes the quarterfinals and loses, they should be one of the more powerful teams who lose in that round.

Don’t believe me? In this tweet below (in Dutch), Ann Wauters said that a quarterfinals berth is Belgium’s goal in EuroBasket Women:

Finally, you can read about why Emma Meesseman loves playing in her home country here.