|One of the best post players in Europe in recent years, Ann Wauters is back from the break and ready to roll|
Ann Wauters is back to playing basketball again and one look at her in a Ros Casares shirt during a practice is all one needs to know about her intentions this season.
She wants to win everything in front of her, and that includes the EuroLeague Women.
This is the first time that Wauters is going into a season after taking a year off.
The Belgian center stopped playing early last season while at UMMC Ekaterinburg after becoming pregnant.
After giving birth to a baby boy, Wauters set on her mind on a return and she's determined to add more championships to her glittering curriculum vitae.
The EuroLeague Women tips off for Wauters and Ros Casares on October 13 at Seat Unisze Gyor, one day after her 31st birthday.
Wauters gave this interview to Jeff Taylor at La Fonteta in Valencia on Monday.
FIBA Europe: Ann, it's incredible to think how fast time goes. Can you remember 1995, when you played for Belgium in the Final Round of the European Championship for Cadettes. Were you able to sit back and reflect on your career while you taking last season off?
Ann Wauters: (Laughs) It was a long time ago. While you are still playing, you don't really take the time or have the time to really think or reflect about what you have done. But with the year off, yes, I kind of stepped away from basketball and thought about what I've done. It was a good time for me to be at home but also think about everything and where I have played in so many different places. It's gone by pretty fast. Wow, I've played 12 years of professional basketball. So you do start to count. I remember that I was always the youngest in the team and now I'm one of the oldest.
FIBA Europe: In this time to reflect, did you think, "I'm glad I did this" or "I wish I hadn't done that"?
Ann Wauters: No, I don't regret anything. It's also in my character. Once I make a decision, I go for it. I don't second-guess the decision and wish I'd done something else because everything has worked out. I've had so many experiences, the chance to play in different countries, discover different cultures, win a lot of titles, of course, but meet so many people and I think that makes you a rich person who can say you have travelled around the world. I think it's been a blessing.
FIBA Europe: Some people look at a career in basketball like it is only a job.
Ann Wauters: I think there are some days when you say, ‘(Sigh) Oh, I wish I could do something else.' But mostly now, I'm really thankful that basketball is a job for us because it's still my passion, it gives me so many emotions, so many opportunities to be in other countries but also the chance to always create something in a team. That is always special. Like now, I'm in a new team. I hadn't played with any of these players before. I had played against some of them. So it's still really special because at the beginning of every season, it's sort of like 10 strangers begin working together towards one goal. It is special. I think a lot of people don't realize how it has to click. It's not just having good players that make you win as a team.
FIBA Europe: What is it that makes a team win?
Ann Wauters: If we knew the answer to that, the recipe, then everyone would use it. It's something complicated, with every little piece in the puzzle having to click that makes you a special team that wins titles, or if not it makes you just an ordinary team like any other. You don't have it every year that it clicks completely. That is the beauty of basketball, the beauty of a team sport. You can't just say that you have the best players and therefore you are going to win. It doesn't work that way. It's something that we have in our head. It's the pre-season and we know that we have a good roster, but it doesn't mean anything now. We have to work each day to be better and better and better.
FIBA Europe: The lack of leadership is often a determining factor in a team's inability to win, especially when there is a roster full of talent. The fact that talk about the need for everyone to be pulling in the same direction suggests that you will be a leader in this team.
Ann Wauters: I'll try to be a leader in this team, but we have Laia (Palau), who has been here a long time and I think she is a perfect leader for this team. But I think it doesn't have to be one person. There can be leaders in different ways. Some leaders are really vocal, sort of like speak to everybody. Some leaders are doing things on the court and others look at her and think, 'Okay, if she's working so hard, then I need to step up, too.' There are different kinds of ways to be a leader.
FIBA Europe: This past year was special for you off the court because you had a baby. How has this affected your day-to-day life, and your overall outlook on life?
Ann Wauters: Completely (laughs). At times, I was kind of bored. I was like, 'What am I going to do, watch another TV show?' And now I'm like, 'TV show? No, there's no time.' So of course, it completely changes your life. My partner had a baby and I had a baby, so it's like twins at home. It's for sure busy.
FIBA Europe: Do you have help at home?
Ann Wauters: Yes, for sure. There is a lady that comes and helps a little bit because otherwise, as a basketball player you need to rest. So she helps sometimes so I can have a nap also during the day.
FIBA Europe: Did you have a boy or a girl?
Ann Wauters: I had a boy, my partner had a girl. They're about three weeks apart. So it's really kind of like twins. It changes you also mentally. Okay physically, I still have to work and get a little stronger and that's something that comes pretty fast. But mentally, I go home and that's like, it's hard to explain. Being a mom, it's too special and hard to put into words.
FIBA Europe: Do you look forward to going to work, but also look forward to going home?
Ann Wauters: Exactly. It's great like kind of getting kind a pause from them because they're not angels all the time, but then I'm the first one in the shower and going home. So it's perfect. I love what I'm doing on the court, but it's also great to go home and see them and how much they change in such a short time.
FIBA Europe: Okay, talking about changes, your last club was UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia and now you are in Valencia, Spain, on the Mediterranean. It's early October and the sun is shining and people are walking around in shorts and t-shirts. Did you seek out Valencia, or did they seek you out? Or was it a little bit of both?
Ann Wauters: I think both. It's a team that always showed a lot of respect for me, always tried to contact me. I kind of knew in the back of my head that I would end up playing here. Now was the perfect time for me. The team is so ambitious. But also the place to live, for my family it's also important they feel good. If at home it doesn't work, then I'm sure it won't work out on the court.
FIBA Europe: What is your mindset going into this season?
Ann Wauters: I'm really motivated to play again. It was really good for me to take a break after those 12 years. I wasn't tired of basketball, but more the travelling, the hotels, being away from home. If you take a year off, you have time to do other things. You have fresh energy.
FIBA Europe: Do you like where women's basketball is right now? There was the Year of Women's Basketball several years ago, which was a great promotion for the game, and we seem to be seeing a lot of great players in Europe and around the world.
Ann Wauters: There are so many young, new talents coming up. It's really good to see that, in many different countries, in the United States and Europe. There was a young Belgium player, Emma Meesseman, who got the MVP of the U18 European Championship Women. It's good to see them coming up. With Meesseman, it's truly exciting for our country there is such a talent. There are other countries that have that kind of young talent coming up, so now, I'm kind of an older player so it's good to see them. Here on the court, I'm able to help those young players out. It's a different role than when I was coming up and was the youngest.
FIBA Europe: Do you have a good chance to win here at Ros Casares?
Ann Wauters: At this stage, I think it's open. With this new Final Eight, we have to wait and see how it's going to work out. I have no idea. I don't even know how we play in the Final Eight, is it Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals, Final? So it's intriguing. It's going to be different. There are a lot of teams that want to win, so it's going to be a battle.
FIBA Europe: After playing basketball, have you thought about what you are going to do?
Ann Wauters: With the years ticking off, you start to think about that. Once you pass 30, you think, 'There is going to be life after basketball.' So, it's something that I've thought about but it's not that easy. I think in Europe, we can do better. In the States, they do it a little bit better. They can use our players in something else (here) because basketball is what we have done for the past 10 to 12 years and it's not that easy to go into a new job, an office job or whatever. I hope to keep doing something in basketball, though.