13/04/2024

Emma Meesseman will lead Belgium in the World Cup as it hopes to become champions for the first time.

The FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup begins on Thursday with 12 teams competing for a chance to become World Champions. The Inner Sanctum sat down exclusively with Emma Meesseman to discuss the tournament and what it means to represent Belgium.

On Thursday, the 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup will take place in Sydney, Australia. 16 teams from five different continents will battle it out, vying to become champions.

One of the underdog teams of the World Cup is Belgium.

Belgium finished in fourth place at the 2018 World Cup, losing to Spain by seven points in the bronze medal game. One of the main stars of the team is Emma Meesseman who is regarded as one of the best players in the world.

During the 2018 World Cup across six appearances, the power forward averaged 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game.

In Belgium colours, Meesseman helped clinch gold at the European Under-18 Championship and bronze at the 2017 and 2021 EuroBasket tournaments.

During the qualifiers for the World Cup, Meesseman topped in points, rebounds, and shooting efficiency for Belgium. The 29-year-old averaged 18 points, shooting 57.5 per cent from the field. She also averaged seven rebounds and five assists.

Meesseman has achieved so much at club and national level. She has played in the WNBA, Belgian National League, and EuroLeague.

She is a four-time EuroLeague champion, EuroLeague Final Four MVP, and FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship MVP.

Meesseman is coming off her first season with the Chicago Sky after having previously played for the Washington Mystics.

During her time at the Mystics, she averaged 11.5 points, 2.6 assists, and 5.6 rebounds per game. She developed her game and was named WNBA Finals MVP when the Mystics won the Championship in 2019.

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Coming into the Sky set-up, Meesseman joined superstars Candace Parker and Courtney Vandersloot. The 6’4 power forward was selected in the WNBA All-Star game as she helped lead Chicago to the playoffs. Unfortunately, her finals campaign was cut short after losing to the Connecticut Sun in the Semi-finals.

Messeeman will come up against two Chicago Sky teammates in the World Cup. Li Yueru was selected to represent China while Kahleah Copper will play for the United States. This should create a fun rivalry between the three teammates.

However, fellow teammate Julie Allemand will join Messeeman in playing for Belgium. Having played with each other for numerous years they have an undeniable connection on and off the court.

“I think we always had a good connection. She’s a great passer, she moves (and) she’s a great leader. I’ve been very grateful that I was able to play with her in Chicago,” Messeeman told The Inner Sanctum about her Belgian teammate.

“It made me proud to see her grow on the highest level. I’m so excited to see what she’s going to bring to this World Cup.

“She has some great players in the same position that she could learn from. So, I know the connection is going to be there. I want to see how much she grows.”

Meesseman and Allemand have developed a great connection with each other over the years. (Photo: This Is Basketball)

Meesseman is looking forward to the start of the tournament. Arriving from the WNBA playoffs, she is ready to get going. Meesseman spoke about her preparation for the tournament.

“I feel it’s been a short preparation with them. I know the kind of basketball we play is always the same. There’s a lot of new players, new coach so (we’re) 100 per cent ready,” the WNBA All-Star said.

“I know we have a couple more practices before the tournament which we can fully use.”

Belgium will be in Group A, alongside Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Puerto Rico, South Korea, and the United States. The Belgian Cats’ opening match will be against three-time defending World Cup winners, the USA. The contest is sure to be a spectacle.

Belgium won bronze at the 2021 EuroBasket in Spain/France. (Photo: Bullets Forever)

The Belgian squad consists of Meesseman and Allemand from Chicago Sky, sisters Becky and Billie Massey, and national team veterans Antonia Delaere, Kyara Linskens, and Julie Vanloo.

Joining them are younger players Maxuella Lisowa-Mbaka, Ine Joris, and Elise Ramette. Hind Ben Abdelkader and Laure Resimont will also be in the squad providing class and skill.

Belgium will be taking a younger squad to the tournament than usual. Being one of the more experienced players in the line-up, the younger players have looked up to Meesseman as a leader and mentor.

“Our young players really appreciate the fact that we have experienced players and they listen. Whenever we try to adjust something, they really listen and (are) open to it,” Meesseman said.

“They really benefit from learning from us and it’s fun to have young blood.”

Meesseman believes team chemistry will be important for Belgium in the World Cup. Having gotten to know each other, they will work hard and achieve a higher place than their previous best place – fourth.

“One of our strong points has always been the energy in the team. You want to fight for each other, you want to hustle for each other,” she said.

“(The) Belgian national team has a special place in my heart. It’s always different playing for them.

“I think the player most unknown to the public is Hind Ben Abdelkader because she has not been with us at past tournaments. She’s a great player, (who has) a lot of scoring talent.”

Hailing from Brussels, Hind Ben Abdelkader carries a high level of experience playing all over the world. The shooting guard has been described as an X-Factor for the Belgium team in this World Cup. She can be a weapon either in the starting five or coming off the bench.

Ben Abdelkader most notably played for the Indiana Fever in 2018. However, she has played across the globe, last suiting up for Nika Syktyvkar in the Russian Premier League. Last season she led the Russian domestic team in points per game, averaging 20.4.

The 26-year-old isn’t the only player who has impressed Messeeman at training. The Belgian veteran believes there are three others who fans should look out for in the World Cup.

“We have a lot of young players. I’m thinking about Maxuella (Lisowa-Mbaka), the Massey sisters (Becky and Billie) are real fighters. The public is going to like our team,” Messeeman continued.

Meesseman not only has the goal to win the World Cup but has several personal goals she is hoping to accomplish. With the squad dramatically changing from 2018, she will now be the most experienced player in the team.

“One of the main challenges for me is to be a vocal leader. With the players retiring from the national team, (there’s) more on my shoulders,” Meesseman said.

“Basketball-wise, I know it’s going to be hard because at some point defence is adjusting but it’s up to me to get others going.”

Winning the World Cup would mean everything to Meesseman and Belgium people. (Photo: Bullets Forever)

The Belgian leader had some last words to share about what it would mean if Belgium was able to win the World Cup. It would mean everything to Meesseman, not only on a personal level but to everyone watching or playing basketball back home in Belgium.

“It means everything to be able to represent Belgium because I know we’ve come a long way. For a couple of years, we’ve never been in the World Cup or Olympics and now it’s the second one,” Meesseman said.

“We won two medals already in the European Championships. It’s really important for the future of Belgian basketball.”

Belgium opens its 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup campaign against the United States on Thursday at 11:30 am.

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