A column by Pat Ceulemans of Het Nieuwsblad (link in Dutch) states that Washington Mystics general manager and head coach Mike Thibault is “in the picture,” or possibly in consideration as the next Belgium women’s national basketball team head coach.
Not long ago, I wrote about the winners and losers of the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup. I listed the Belgian Cats as losers. While the Cats made the quarterfinals, they didn’t play with the same fire as they did in the 2018 World Cup when they made the semifinals. And Chicago Sky forward Emma Meesseman didn’t play well in that tournament, though it was due to injury.
The Belgian Basketball Federation fired Valery Demory, their previous head coach who held the position for one year earlier this week. Demory replaced Philip Mestdagh, who led the Cats to two Women’s EuroBasket bronze medals (2017 and 2021), the 2018 World Cup semifinals and the 2020 Olympics. The federation fired Demory because of communication problems.
Belgium as a country has a rather even split of native Dutch (about 60 percent) and native French (about 40 percent) speakers. Demory was a Frenchman and didn’t speak Dutch. The Cats players could communicate in French with him, so this wasn’t a problem in and of itself. But in the FIBA game, the language of communication is English, not French.
Ceulemans wrote that Demory didn’t speak English, which increased communication barriers with referees and media. This wasn’t the only reason to fire Demory, but it certainly was a contributing factor.
According to Sporza (link in Dutch), the Federation wants a coach with “an international profile” to succeed Demory, and someone who works with a large staff. The Sporza report said that there were 13 people.
There is one person whom Belgium will not consider as their next head coach: Chicago Sky assistant Ann Wauters. This was due to her inexperience as a coach, despite her resume as a player for the Cats and internationally.
Going back to Ceuleman’s column, he went on to state why Thibault would be a fit for the Belgian Cats. The reasons include Thibault’s past experience coaching Meesseman when she played for the Mystics from 2013-20 and his experience as an assistant for Team USA during the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup.
On the one hand, it’s flattering that Thibault may be considered for the Cats’ position (emphasis is mine). But any FIBA Europe national team job would require missing much of the WNBA regular season for Women’s EuroBasket from June 15-25 next year (and really much longer than that as a head coach). So I don’t think that it’s realistic to see Thibault coaching the Cats.
Belgium will have to make a decision very quickly. The Cats’ next games are Women’s EuroBasket qualifier games on Nov. 24 against North Macedonia and Nov. 27 against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Both games will be at home in Leuven.