At the age of 22 Ann Wauters has experience playing on 3 continents (Europe, Asia and North America), has been named MVP of the Euroleague Women on 2 occasions and has a trophy collection to rival players 10 years her senior.
Yet on the national team level, she and her national team Belgium, are rookies, appearing in their first European Championship for Women since 1985. Wauters is the team’s star and key player, but she is not alone in Belgium’s campaign to make the quarter-finals. The Belgians have a young team and have surprised many with their relative depth and future potential.
After beating Hungary, the Belgians will play Ukraine today in Amaliada and a win will see them advance to the quarter-finals. We sat down with Ann Wauters to discuss, among other subjects, the championship so far, her time in Korea and her dunking ambitions.
How are you finding your first European Championship?
Wauters: Well it’s a great tournament and we are staying in a great place. I think it is very important for us Belgium, to grow as a team,. We have some good players, potential players. And for the first time we are saying, we can do something with this team. We had a good preparation, I wasn’t there, but they were practising like professionals. This is important because a lot of our players are not professionals. We are probably the only team without 10 pro players.
Most people say that Belgium is just Ann Wauters, is that the case?
Wauters: No, I think we have some other good players, like our guards Mombe who is very fast and some other good players, just nobody really at the top. But that is because we have never been at big tournaments. Other players are going abroad to France and have experience outside of Belgium.
Are you impressed with the standard of the play and is it different to Euroleague or WNBA?
Wauters: For me personally yes because I have a much more different role with the Belgian team. I have to be a leader on the court and there is a lot of pressure on me so it is different to say with Valenciennes, where you have a lot of good players around you. But its fun because it is a young team that can grow. It is not on the top but it can grow and that is what I like about it.
Is being a leader something you’re comfortable with?
Wauters: Yes, I want to be a leader on the court. Sometimes it is not easy at my position, and it is easier for a guard. But I think if you are a good player you have to be a leader and I hope I can lead this team.
Does it also mean being a vocal leader off the court?
Wauters: I wasn’t at the preparations so I’m not the girl who is gonna talk now all of a sudden. I don’t want it to be like the star is coming late and now she’s gonna talk to everybody. Sometimes I’ll say something before a game about things I know about other players, more things like that.
You have one more game coming up against Ukraine, and you are fighting with Hungary for the fourth spot in the group. Can you qualify to the quarter-finals?
Wauters: I thinks so, yeah. I’m pretty confident we can do it and if we can get one win we will qualify. Ukraine is really the game we have to win. They play a strange type of basketball and I don’t know them that well. I saw part of one of their games and if they shoot well it will be tough to stop them.
You have just come back from playing in Korea, how was that?
Wauters in action against Spain
It was exciting to do other stuff that I can’t do in France. It was a little difficult at the end because I’m used to playing much harder defense.
What motivated you to go to Korea?
Wauters: The main reason was that I had a month’s break. I could have gone to the WNBA but they expected me to be there as soon as possible after the French Championship. I really needed a break and I went on holiday for 4 weeks. Last year in the WNBA my team wasn’t so good. It was not a great experience and I still had that in mind. Then Korea came up as another option.
Is the standard in Korea comparable with Europe?
Wauters: Well if you look at the Olympics they finished fourth and in the World Championships fifth with the national team. It’s not that they can’t play basketball because they can, just differently. If you play hard defense against them they would have a hard time.
I remember in the Olympics they played France which I watched. France always wanted to play inside against the shorter players. Korea played quick passes and they don’t think before they shoot, so on a day where everything goes in, it is hard to stop them.
So you haven’t closed the chapter on your WNBA career?
Wauters: No, not at all. Cleveland decided to stop their team so now I’m free and I could be a free agent or get drafted by another team where I would have a different role.
How do you see the upcoming Euroleague Women season?
Wauters: I think it will be much tougher. Now you have 2 very competitive Russian clubs who have almost dream teams. In our group all the teams are strong so you don’t know before the game whether you will win or not, which is often the case in France. In the French league if we play well we’ll win by 30, if we play badly we might win by 20.
Many women basketball players say that their dream is to dunk in a game. Is that the same for you?
Wauters: I would love to dunk, but it’s not an obsession and something that I practice every day.
Can you dunk?
Wauters: In practice I can when I’m alone, but I never did it during a game. If I really practised it I’m sure I could do it. I think if you see a girl dunk its not that great. It’s still cool but not like Kobe Bryant or someone and it will never be like that.
You still have a long way to go in your career, but where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
Wauters: I don’t know if I will still be playing. If I enjoy it I will keep playing. I think though there will come a time when I will stop playing at a high level. I’m pretty ambitious and there are other things I want to do in my life. I have projects in my mind to work in Belgium working with sports accommodation for kids and basketball, or create some kind of centre for the good players. We miss that in Belgium and in sports we are a little behind.