By Paul Nilsen
|Guard Antonia Delaere will be one of the leaders for Belgium at the U18 European Championship Women|
There's little doubt Antonia Delaere deserves a greater share of the limelight for her outstanding accomplishments with Belgium, having been somewhat unfairly overshadowed by a couple of her gold medal winning team-mates.
Despite having been arguably left in the shadow of FIBA Europe Young Player Of The Year Emma Meesseman and playmaker Julie Vanloo, Delaere has been the rock upon which a sizeable chunk of Belgian success has been built.
Look down the stats or watch any game DVD and you will see her play more minutes than anyone else after the headline duo. Throw in the fact that the 1.72 guard is actually a year younger than her colleagues and you begin to realise just how good Delaere actually is.
Only don't expect the player herself to worry too much about not being given the wider recognition she so thoroughly deserves.
"I just want to play my game since I like the sport and not the media attention" she explained.
"Of course it's nice to have some media attention because it means that you are improving. But, I find it much nicer to win a European Championship and to improve my game."
MISSING EUROBASKET WOMEN FINAL ROUND
Her response typifies why she is so important on the floor and also why she has just spent the summer competing with the senior National Team during a rocky EuroBasket Women qualification programme.
"Even though we lost all but one of our games, it was a campaign where I learned a lot" said Delaere.
"Basketball at this level is a lot more physical and the decisions you need to make in the game are quicker.
"It's true that we missed a lot of experience, something that we can see in the games too. It's up to us to solve that ‘problem' and we tried to fix that in our games.
She continued, "We played against lots of EuroLeague Women quality players who have a higher level and that's why we need to play a lot faster, handle the pressure but the main thing is playing more physical.
"When you go to the basket, there are standing girls with 1.95 m, so you need to play it smart, because otherwise you get a block or lose the ball."
RELISHING EUROCUP WOMEN ADVENTURES
Her mature and philosophical outlook is also reflected through her experiences playing in EuroCup Women last season with Lotto Young Cats.
"Yes, I learned a lot" she agreed.
"The Young Cats team exists for all young players so everybody gets their minutes to be a better player.
"It was every time a new adventure traveling, for example to Chevakata! I think we had to travel almost 24 hours, just to play one game. Seriously, it was crazy but I love it!"
FIRST STEP IN NAPLES TO WORLD LEVEL
As well as her exploits at senior and club level, Delaere has also enjoyed her experiences at youth tournaments during the last three years - fitting plenty into a short space of time ever since she stepped out in Naples at the U16 European Championship Women three years ago.
"It was my first time and I didn't know what the level was at the U16 European Championship.
"We wanted to play for the first five spots to get to the World Championship.
"We played game by game, kept on playing and winning and suddenly we played the final against Spain and got a silver medal.
"It was a dream that came out - it was a perfect first experience" added Delaere.
"Nobody had thought before the campaign, that this would happen. This result was also very good for our sport in Belgium.
"Like you see, our youth teams are doing well at the European Championships. Our sport is growing in Belgium and that's a good sign"
Having targeted the U17 World Championships and delivered against that aim, Delaere and her team-mates were able to compete in at the event in 2010 in France - meaning another tournament with special memories.
"You could play against the best players in the world and that's something amazing.
"The atmosphere was something amazing. We had a lot of supporters. Especially the game against France was great. The gym was full and the noise was amazing."
GOLD RUSH IN ROMANIA
Things got even better last summer at the U18 European Championship Women in Oradea when Delaere was part of a team that wrote itself into Belgium basketball folklore.
"I can barely describe how it felt since it was just the best feeling ever.
"We were the first Belgian team to win gold at a European championship and we made history.
"Everybody knew that Spain was the top favourite to win the tournament, especially with (Astou) Ndour in their team. The (semi-final) game against Spain was the craziest game I've ever played in!
"I think during the last 4 minutes they just couldn't score. When Emma (Meesseman) had to make the free throws, I just knew that she would score them.
"The whole team had a lot of confidence in her and eventually she scored both and we won.
"It was an indescribable feeling" smiled Delaere.
This time around, returning to Romania for the U18 European Championship 2012 in Bucharest brings a new challenge but she still expects the team to deliver once again.
"Of course our first goal is going to the U19 World Championship next year since everybody on the team now has lots more experience than two years before.
"There is a balance with some players who won the gold medal in Romania last year but we have also some players who won the silver medal at the European Championship and we must give each our experience.
"Everybody also plays first division in Belgium, so I think we've grown a lot individually. Now we need to put all of this together and I think it can work really well.
"We are all very excited to play this tournament and we are looking forward to it. Again it's in Romania, so I hope it's our lucky charm!"