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Mike Thibault says he would like Emma Meesseman to return the Mystics one day, expects Julie Vanloo to make the team

The Mystics’ General Manager said this during an interview with Sporza before the FIBA Olympic Women’s Qualifying tournament.


Washington Mystics General Manager Mike Thibault is an assistant coach for the USA Basketball women’s national team where he is in Antwerp, Belgium for the FIBA Olympic Women’s Qualifying Tournament. He is also familiar with several Belgian players, including Julie Vanloo, whom he just signed and 2013 draft pick Emma Meesseman, who became a 2015 All-Star and 2019 Finals MVP under his watch.

In an interview with Sporza, a Belgian Dutch language sports network, before the games began, Thibault gave his thoughts on the Belgium women’s national basketball team. He began the interview saying that Team USA wasn’t going to overlook the Cats despite their meteoric rise and winning a lot of fans worldwide along the way.

But you aren’t here for that since the title probably got you to click. So, let me get this out of the way.

Yes, Mike Thibault wants Emma Meesseman to return to the Mystics.

BUT! He didn’t say that Meesseman is a priority for this season’s free agency. The key word is “one day,” meaning sometime soon.

In the Sporza link, there is a video which you can watch in English. At about the four minute mark, the interviewer asked Thibault about possibly signing more Belgians besides Vanloo, when Thibault started smiling. Here is what he said.

My dream is that hopefully Emma will want to come back for a year or two. I know her priority right now is the Olympics. But at some point, that would be fun if she came back.

I know she likes D.C. She still has some former teammates there that she stays in touch with. So, we’ll see what happens. She has a lot on her plate right now, but that would be a nice dream to have.

Given that Delle Donne has effectively left the Mystics for now, Meesseman is the ideal replacement in many ways.

Since Meesseman has left Washington, she has developed into a franchise player, albeit for Fenerbahçe in Istanbul, Turkey. She is the reigning EuroLeague Women MVP from the 2022-23 season and is in a great position to do it again this year.

Thibault isn’t the only one who praised Meesseman. After Team USA beat the Cats last Thursday, Team USA and Minnesota Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve called her a Top 5 player in the world during the postgame press conference.

I seemed to have taken a shot at Meesseman after Team USA beat the Cats last Thursday, that the Americans made Meesseman … “Passive Emma” given her lack of scoring. But that was the Team USA fan in me. And really, Meesseman has become a true all-around force.

She may not have dropped 30 points on the Americans, but Meesseman showed her elite post-playmaking skills and made Team USA pay that way. If the Americans were going to lose to the Cats, they would do so because OTHER players would score those points. It almost worked!

And yes, Vanloo should be making the Mystics’ opening day roster.

When you read that so-and-so is signed to a training camp contract, it implies that those players are just warm bodies for practice before opening day and nothing more. But we also have to know that this is a major time commitment for someone like Vanloo, who would be traveling from a country that’s eight hours away by plane.

At around the 3:30 mark of the video, Thibault said the following on Vanloo:

[Julie] is on a training camp contract. But all that means is it’s not guaranteed. I fully expect her to make an imprint on our team. We signed her because we think she can play.

WNBA teams are only allowed six guaranteed spots each. The Mystics have also signed other non-American players on training camp contracts who made the final roster, like Rui Machida in 2022 and Li Meng in 2023. I don’t see how Vanloo misses the cut in 2024. Furthermore, given that Natasha Cloud and Kristi Toliver are no longer on the Mystics, there’s a good chance that Vanloo will play significant minutes. And I wouldn’t be surprised if she started to be quite honest.

Of course, Vanloo may miss games for the Mystics because of her commitment to the Cats, such as if Belgium plans on doing a heavy schedule of friendlies before the Olympics and expects her to be in Europe instead of D.C. But we have seen Vanloo play for quite some time, and this is as good of a time as any for her to play in the WNBA. Hopefully, she will become a fan favorite if Washington plays better than what some skeptics think.