Last month, we saw Emma Meesseman lead the Belgian women’s national basketball team to a bronze medal finish in EuroBasket Women 2017.
You can check out our StoryStream to see all the highlights that Meesseman and the Belgian Cats provided. But if there’s one game that is a capstone of her abilities, look no further than her 28 point, 11 rebound, and 5 assist performance against Italy in the quarterfinals when they won, 79-66:
The statistical production is great, but her efficiency was even better. Meesseman shot 11 of 18 from the field and even got to the free throw line seven times in nearly 36 minutes of action. That’s a free throw rate (or free throw attempts divided by shot attempts) of 38.8 percent, well over the 28.23 percent free throw rate she had for EuroBasket. In the WNBA, her free throw rate never went above 21.6 percent, which was last season.
When I saw Meesseman play the way she did in EuroBasket, I was happy that she led her country to their best-ever finish in the tournament. She took the reins as her country’s franchise player and figures to be for years to come.
For those of you who think Belgium just suddenly showed up out of the blue, it’s not true. Though Belgium was unranked heading into EuroBasket Women, many weren’t surprised to them make a big run because of team chemistry.
Meesseman is certainly the biggest star from Belgium and led their U-18 national team to the U-18 EuroBasket title in 2011. But there multiple senior team members who were part of that team as well. Starting point guard Julie Vanloo and swingman Antonia Delaere were part of Meesseman’s supporting cast for that run.
Back in the day, Meesseman played for the Ieper Blue Cats youth team, where she also played with some current senior team members. Vanloo is one of them as well as reserve guard Hanne Mestdagh. Belgium’s head coach, Philip Mestdagh was the Ieper Blue Cats’ coach when Meesseman was there. And there’s no doubt that Meesseman spent plenty of time with Kim Mestdagh as well who’s a few years older than her.
Therefore, when there’s a strong youth development system, and an uber-skilled player, it’s not surprising that a very young Belgian national team can advance to the semifinals against the traditional powers who had older rosters.
Seeing Meesseman do what she did with her fellow Iepenaars and Belgians is great on a personal level. And it also provided us a glimpse of what she could do in Washington. The disconnect is that we haven’t seen the EuroBasket Women version of Meesseman here on a consistent basis.
In the past, Meesseman was tentative on the court and perhaps even off of it. After all, she experienced culture shock by coming to America for the first time as a Mystics training camp member in 2013. But her skills were apparent from the moment she stepped onto the court, enough to the point where Mike Thibault traded Crystal Langhorne to the Seattle Storm the following year so Meesseman can start and grow into a bigger role.
We’ve seen Meesseman earn an All-Star berth in 2015 and she would have done so again last season if the WNBA held a game during an Olympic year. Though the spotlight was on Elena Delle Donne this season after she was traded to Washington, Meesseman always figured to be a major part of the Mystics’ plan to be in the conversation for a WNBA championship sooner rather than later. To that end, she continued to grow professionally by playing alongside superstars like Diana Taurasi in Russia, and now we saw her lead Belgium to the bronze medal in EuroBasket Women.
I get it, the Mystics are “Elena Delle Donne’s team” now. But in life, things happen at a moment’s notice. Players get injured, and it opens opportunities for others to take the reins.
Unfortunately, Tayler Hill is out for the rest of this season and we aren’t sure how long Delle Donne will be out either. The narrative this season made it easy — sometimes a bit too easy — for me to say that Meesseman’s role will be diminished because of her EuroBasket absence, or her reluctance to “play American.”
Sunday’s news was bad. But it’s also an opportunity for us to see the next step in Meesseman’s development here in the United States. We know Meesseman has the skills to be a Top 10 WNBA player. Her body of work shows just that. Hell, even WNBA GM’s gave her a shot at being the WNBA MVP this season.
But as efficient as she is, the only question is can she reconcile her ideal way of playing in Europe with some of the things we see more often in American basketball like players sometimes “gunning for shots” or taking shot attempts just to get to the free throw line? If Meesseman can reconcile this “thing” she has about American basketball like some European NBA stars (ex - Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker) have, then I have no doubt that she’s officially arrived as a WNBA superstar. Here’s hoping that she can, because the Mystics need her more than ever right now.