Meesseman, The Reluctant Belgian Star

09.02.2012

FIBA EUROPE AWARDS

5. Julie Vanloo (Belgium), 11. Emma Meesseman (Belgium)
Emma Meesseman (second from left) with her Belgium teammates at the U18 European Championship Women 2011 - they came, they played, they had fun, they left with the gold medal

On Wednesday, two days after being named FIBA Europe Young Women's Player of the Year for 2011, Emma Meesseman was invited to a Belgian TV talk show.

One would expect that, for a 19-year-old girl who has grown up in today's celebrity culture-obsessed world, appearing on the popular De Laatste Show on national TV would be a dream come true.

In this respect at least, Emma Meesseman is far from an ordinary 19-year-old.

"I don't really like giving interviews, and going to TV shows definitely not," she freely admits to FIBAEurope.com.

Why did she accept the invitation then?

"I did it for my family and mainly to generate interest about basketball in the news in Belgium, to talk to the audience about basketball. 

"We won the gold medal in the summer and not many people in Belgium knew about that, so I had the chance to talk about it."

Belgium conquering the gold medal at the U18 European Championship Women did not make the headlines and definitely did not get a lot of airtime on TV.

Emma Meesseman being named the best young player of 2011 though, did, and the young center used it to attract attention to the team success.

"I was walking to the shop with my mother (former international player Sonja Tankrey) to buy some groceries for the evening and I didn't expect a phone call like that," Meesseman tells of her reaction when the Belgian Federation people got in touch to tell her the good news.

"My mother was very happy that I won and even more surprised. All my friends congratulated me, everyone at my club (Blue Cats Ieper in the domestic league, Lotto Young Cats in EuroCup Women) especially was very happy and journalists started contacting me to ask me about it."

"It is a good thing because this way women's basketball in Belgium can get some exposure, it is not so popular at the moment."

It might sound that Emma herself is not excited about the award, that she only sees it as a means to a broader goal, but it's not exactly the case.

She just has her own, reserved way of dealing with it.

Belgium celebrating their win in the final
Standing at the top of the podium with the gold medal around her neck was the best moment of 2011 for Belgium's and European basketball's rising star

"I don't play basketball to become famous, or for the individual awards. It's nice to have it but it's not the reason why I play," she explains.

What is the reason she plays?

"Basketball is just the sport I love. Every time that I play the game, every time that I have the chance to play with the national team I have fun, I really enjoy it.

"The fact is that we Belgians are like that, we enjoy playing and it is a big reason why we win, or we keep on believing even when we are down, this is Belgium's main strength.

"Having fun is the most important thing in basketball."

This sounds much more like an ordinary 19-year-old talking. Only, it transpires, Meesseman is a very focused, very down-to-earth 19-year-old.

Her idea of fun is linked to what happens on the basketball court. Everything peripheral, from an award to the pressure that comes from fame and success, can easily be blocked out.

"I know there is pressure but I don't really feel it because no matter how much pressure there is, or how many people talk about me, it is I who is playing the game on the court, nobody else can do that.

"I have the ball in my hands, and it's I and my teammates that have to score and defend, during those 40 minutes there is nothing else."

Meesseman lights up when she recalls her favourite moment in 2011.

"The game against France was my best moment. Those moments on the podium with the gold medal, the sense that we made history for Belgium, the first time our country won a gold medal.

Belgium shocked favourites Spain in the semi-final of the U18 European Championship Women and then achieved an equally impressive feat in the final against France to win gold. They surprised everyone but themselves.  

"We always take it step by step, and we only think about the game at hand, one game at a time," the Championship's MVP explains.

"We were a good team, we knew that if we play together the way we can, we can beat both Spain and France."

The Belgian U18 Women team and Emma Meesseman in particular were a joy to watch. The future looks bright for both her and her teammates, the golden generation.

"It was the right decision for me to stay in Belgium so I could continue with my studies, but my personal goal is to stay  one or two years more maximum and then go to a club abroad," she says of her plans on club level.

"Even next year I could move to a club in Spain, or France, or Russia or Turkey, but of course I don't know yet.

A special place in her heart though, is reserved for the national team.

"We now have the very good players from the U18 and U16 teams and in the future, in the near future actually, we can play and compete at the EuroBasket Women and hopefully qualify for the Olympics someday," she says.

"That is my dream, to play in the Olympics with Belgium."


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