EuroBasket Women AQT
The words "scoring" and "machine" come to mind when discussing the attributes of Netherlands power forward Leonie Kooij.
The 24-year-old from Den Helder, in her first run with the senior team last summer in EuroBasket Women Division A, hit double-figures in six of her team's eight games and in one clash against low countries rivals Belgium poured in 39.
She wasn't just scoring at will in the low post, either.
Against the Belgians, Kooij lit it up from long range, drilling six of nine attempts.
Hopes were high that Kooij would be a prominent figure in the senior team set-up when she was playing for the under-20s and so far, she has delivered big style.
While the Dutch won just two of their eight games last summer, they still have a chance of reaching June's EuroBasket Women in Poland since there is one place up for grabs in the Additional Qualifying Tournament.
Reaching the Final Round this summer or in the years ahead, Kooij says, is the primary goal.
"That is a dream," she says, "not just for me but for my team, coaching staff, and the Dutch federation.
"It will be amazing if we can reach that."
So who is this player that led the Dutch in scoring last summer and figures to be in the national team set-up for a long time?
Kooij gave this interview to Basketball World News.
|Circumstances have made 24-year-old forward Leonie Kooij one of the veterans in this Netherlands team, but she is ready to rise to the occasion|
What attracted you to basketball and when did you start playing the game for fun?
Kooij: "I started playing when I was six years old because of my sister. When I got older, (UMMC Ekaterinburg's and Team USA's) Candace Parker became my role model."
Did you play college basketball in America or come through a club system in Europe?
Kooij: "No, I never went to college. I played for Sibenik in Croatia and Celta de Vigo in Spain."
How has this season gone for you?
Kooij: "I was playing for Celta de Vigo in Spain. Unfortunately, I injured my ankle and that was a huge disappointment. In February, I had surgery in Amsterdam and they found out I had torn a ligament. Now I'm back on the court with the national team and working really hard to get back in shape."
What are your emotions when you put on the Netherlands national team shirt and how does that compare to playing for a club?
Kooij: "Playing for the national team is a big honor. I love playing and working with people that want to get the best out of themselves and each other."
How would you describe your role in the national team?
Kooij: "With my 24 years, I will be one of the oldest members of our team this summer. I need to use my experience and help out all the young players on the team. I have an important role in the team and hopefully I will lead the team to our goal."
What about your experience with the Dutch youth teams, and your teammates, especially the U20 European Championship for Women?
Kooij: "Really good! The last couple of years, all our youth teams showed they can compete at this level. And that's a big step in the right direction."
The Netherlands senior team had only two wins last year but for a side that had just won promotion, the Dutch did appear to take a step forward. What do you remember about last summer?
Kooij: "Last summer was a big learning process for us. We started the campaign with a big loss in Lithuania but we fought back and showed we can play against some big countries. But in some moments of the games, we missed the experience to make the right decisions."
Is experience at the highest level the main thing that is missing from the national team? Will the team be strong this summer because of all the hard games you had last year?
Kooij: "For us it's important that the players compete in stronger leagues when they are ready to make that step. That will make the national team stronger of course. The team will look different compared to last summer due to some injures. But the players from last year can use their experience from last summer."
Tell us about the coaching staff.
Kooij: "We will have the same head coach, Meindert van Veen, but we have two new assistant coaches. One is Erik Braal and he is one of the best coaches in the men's league. Also we have Remy de Wit. He is the head coach of the basketball academy in Amsterdam where girls practice 20 hours a week."
The Additional Qualifying Tournament for the EuroBasket Women will be played in June and promises to be a great competition. What can we expect from the Netherlands?
Kooij: "You can expect a young, hard working team that will fight their heart out for that one ticket that is left."