BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
| Julie Vanloo added more silverware to an already impressive collection earlier this summer|
It's proving a landmark year for Belgian starlet Julie Vanloo as FIBAEurope.com women's basketball specialist Paul Nilsen found out.
SIGNING OFF IN STYLE
The highly rated 20-year-old recently waved goodbye to an illustrious youth career, signing off in real style. The last photo and memory of Vanloo at youth level was being crowned U20 European Championship Women Division B MVP and clutching a gold medal, having helped Belgium clinch promotion.
"Yes, it was a perfect summer for me" agreed Vanloo, who scored a spectacular 20.4 points-per-game in Albena, Bulgaria.
"It was a great experience and whilst promotion was our goal, we felt we could also take the gold it and so it proved. We also went undefeated.
"We had a really good group and worked hard together to achieve the promotion.
"For some '93-born girls it wasn't so important, because our youth campaigns are now done, but for the other [younger] girls, it's great to be in Division A again.
"I also must give a special shout out for my girl Antonia Delaere, since she's now injured with an ACL," added Vanloo.
"But she will come back stronger and she will play in Division A again, so that's great."
She continued, "My MVP award was really special - although nothing is more special than a gold medal with the team.
"However I did work really hard to be at a top level with my physical trainer Jelle Duthoit and he helped me a lot.
"Of course I would not have the MVP award without my teammates and players such as Hanne Mestdagh, who has worked so hard to get back to the high level after three ACL injuries!"
"She also made it into the All-Tournament Team so hard work really does pay off!"
CASTING A LOOK BACK
"My youth career was perfect, with such nice moments," says Vanloo.
"My first minutes on court, first medal, first All-Tournament Team, first MVP, the FIBA U17 World Championship too - but the most beautiful moment was U18 Division A gold in 2011 in Romania.
"The semi-final game against Spain and the close win, that was the most beautiful [moment]!
"The moments off the court were also so cool, being with my teammates of the same age and acting really crazy at times!
"I will miss that the most. We were all really close and that made us a really good team.
"As for the lows? Every time we missed gold and the hardest was losing a medal in 2010 against China - I was so disappointed!
"Also at U16 level during 2009 in Naples against Spain after overtime. I was so young there and it was so emotional as a player."
MONDEVILLE IS MAGIC FOR VANLOO
| Julie Vanloo has no shortage of top-level experience, having played an impressive six youth competitions for Belgium|
Vanloo is now embarking on a first season outside of her homeland with Mondeville, in the fiercely competitive French League.
The move is already accelerating her development and maturing her outlook.
"I remember my manager called me and told me Mondeville wanted me as a first point-guard and I didn't doubt for one second or negotiate - I just said yes immediately," laughed Vanloo.
"I'm now working hard on being a complete player, reading the game better and organising my team - most of all, being smarter defensively.
"I've really improved my three-point shot and last year, I had the most triples in the Belgian League. I worked hard for that, because it's difficult to penetrate against girls who are two metres tall.
"I am just more adult now when I play - people who know me well and have seen me playing for all these years will know what I mean.
"The expectations are getting back into European club competition and winning as much as we can," she revealed.
"It's a big experience to play in the first league in France and I am really excited - it's a dream.
"I am so happy here, although I still miss Belgium, my friends and my soccer team Bruges."
A TRULY BELOVED BRUGES
Yes, you heard it right - she did just say she was missing her beloved football club Bruges.
"I really love basketball, but when I come home I always watch football - it's my passion," reiterated Vanloo.
"I love to watch Champions League, Premier League and every game of my man [Lionel] Messi, since he is the best.
"I really love Bruges and it's a case of Bruges until I die. I miss the moments with my dad when we go to the road games with the supporters on the bus. I sing and jump all the time and I sometimes cry if they lose."
She added, "Every year I go on a city trip with my dad and this year we've booked to see Chelsea and Liverpool.
Of course, football is not the only thing she is missing.
"I miss my family too of course! It's because of them I have become who I am. I love my parents and I'm very thankful for everything they have done and still do for me," smiled Vanloo.
Having already gained experience playing for the senior national team, the guard is likely to feature for Belgium again next summer when they will try to qualify for EuroBasket Women 2015.