Washington Mystics forward Emma Meesseman: Belgium’s best and a WNBA rising star
Breakfast in three different cities three days in a row, a historic milestone for her native country in EuroBasket and the successful addition of new dimensions to her game were all elements of Washington Mystics forward Emma Meesseman’s unique transatlantic journey that kicked off her summer.
Meesseman is one of the hidden gems of the WNBA. She finished just outside of the top ten in several categories for the 2016 season. The Belgian phenom was 11th in field goal percentage (53.3 percent) and was also the best three-point shooter at 44 percent from beyond the arc. At 6’4, Meesseman’s ability to spread the floor, diminish shooting lanes and create shooting opportunities demonstrates her importance for the Mystics.
“She can score, rebound, and she’s a terrific passer,” Mystics’ head coach Mike Thibault said on Meesseman’s skill set. “It makes our offense much more dangerous. She’s one of the best young players in this league.”
With the addition of 2015 MVP and fellow forward Elena Delle Donne to their lineup this year, the beginning of the season seemed like the perfect time for Meesseman to leave to compete for Belgium in EuroBasket with Delle Donne functioning as a safety net.
Meesseman left to play for Belgium just four games into the regular season. Her last game before she departed was May 25 against the Chicago Sky where she contributed four points, two assists and five rebounds. After the 82-67 win in Illinois, she served a temporary suspension while competing overseas.
Her role as the Belgian Cats’ forward is icing on the cake to her season. She was a powerful force on both sides of the ball and played a leadership role to the young Belgian players with hopes of escalating Belgian women’s basketball into the later rounds of the European tournament.
“They’re all so young,” Meesseman said of the Belgian team. “They haven’t played in different countries yet so it’s important that I help them with the game.”
Luckily, Meesseman could attend the EuroBasket qualifying games last November to help build the team chemistry that was necessary for the summer games.
The 2017 FIBA EuroBasket competition took place June 17 – 25 in the Czech Republic with games spread over two cities: Hradec Kralove and Prague. Meesseman and the Belgian national team were looking to put a decade of falling short of qualifying in the EuroBasket behind them.
“Where I played the crowd was great. They’re friendlier, almost every single person in the stands know each other,” Meesseman said of the experience. “They root for me and keep following me even while I’m in the WNBA.”
On rest days, she kept up with the Mystics as they soared to first place in the Eastern conference in June. Even six hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone, Meesseman made sure to keep up and continue rooting for the team she would be heading straight back to play with after the tournament’s conclusion.
“My team, Belgium and I, were keeping up with [the Mystics] too,” Meesseman said. “It was tough when they dropped games but it was easy because they were winning most of the time. I enjoyed seeing both [of my] teams winning.”
Meesseman renewed her role as the big for the Cats as guards Kim Mestdagh and Jane Vanloo carried the team with their perimeter shooting. Belgium’s balance on both side of the ball took the team to the semifinals where they faced Greece for a shot at a bronze medal.
Meesseman finished the tournament contributing 15 points, four rebounds and two assists in a 78-45 win against Greece for a bronze medal. It was the first-ever medal for Belgium in EuroBasket. She averaged 17.5 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per contest in the tournament. Meesseman hopes the milestone for the Cats helps the team’s fanbase grow and gain the attention it once had among European women’s basketball aficionados.
“A lot of Belgium star players have left to play outside of Belgium so it’s hard for people to go to games,” Meesseman said. “Now that we have a bronze medal, I think we’ll have more coverage and fans for Belgian basketball.”
In addition to the bronze, Meesseman also learned what it means to carry the responsibility of being a high caliber athlete in the media, representing her beloved native country while their fame grows with their success.
“What I try to do in every interview is mention that I’m from Belgium and I learned how to play basketball there,” Meesseman said on her new media tactics. “Now, I know we need that attention.”
She was re-activated in the WNBA on June 30, right before the Mystics five road game stretch that started with a loss against the Los Angeles Sparks. Washington dropped four of the five road games and lost guard Tayler Hill for the season with an ACL tear. Then Elena Delle Donne was out temporarily with an ankle sprain.
The team returned home July 19, winning an overtime thriller against the Atlanta Dream 100-96. Meesseman delivered an expected dominant performance, collecting 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
With Meesseman back, Thibault and the Mystics are determined to find chemistry for the team to settle into for the rest of the season. It will keep them afloat through changes as the final stretch to postseason approaches.
“When you’re more than halfway through season and an important part of your team comes back- that makes it hard,” Thibault said. “Having her back is huge. I don’t want to just throw her out here and say ‘go do it.’ This team needs practice time together.”
Currently in her fourth season with the Mystics and Thibault, the Belgian veteran knows what needs to get done to solidify a successful season as first place in the Eastern conference is up for grabs at the All-Star Break.
Washington is currently tied with the Connecticut Sun for first in the East, while the New York Liberty sits in their rear-view mirror at second. In the league overall, the Mystics and the Sun are tied at third.
“It’s frustrating seeing how we lose,” Meesseman said on the Mystics’ mishaps. “We have to come back out of the locker room staying focused with the same mood, rhythm and energy [in the second half]. We need to show that we’re capable of winning the whole game.”
The task is not finding a player to fix the issues within the Mystics roster, but only to tighten the rope that strings the talented team together. Under the great leadership of Thibault and Meesseman ready to tackle the challenge, the future is bright for her and Washington.