20 September, 2023
14 April, 2024
to read

2023: The astonishing, record-breaking 'Year of Emma'

ISTANBUL (Turkiye) - With a sparkling resume soaked with honors, Emma Meesseman entered 2023 as one of the most revered ballers in the world and yet still went on to scale some epic new historical heights.

Yes, it has been a breathtaking and unprecedented year for one of the best players and leaders of the female game in the modern era - or some might now argue, one of the best ever. 

Having already helped the Belgian Cats to punch their ticket for the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2023 during the last qualifying window back in February, the unstoppable forward crossed that off her list and flipped the page to the next big task.



This was to inspire Fenerbahce Alagoz Holding to a historical maiden EuroLeague Women title - something so many megastars had tried and failed to do so previously in what had  been one of the longest running chases and quests in the sport.

Meesseman put the competition on notice with some sublime performances and it resulted in her being crowned EuroLeague Women MVP. She received the honor in a special ceremony at the Final Four in Prague - something that was one of the highlights of 2023 - even if she admitted she's not used to thinking about a calendar year as an athlete.

"At the end of every year I always get asked to look back and comment on everything that happened and sometimes it is a little weird because basketball players think in different years, if that makes sense - we go season by season," she explained.

"My year kind of starts in September and ends in May, then we have summer and we go again after that. So when we talk about last season’s EuroLeague Women season, it seems such a long time ago. Because as soon as a season finishes, I have the next goal to accomplish, which this year was the FIBA Women's EuroBasket.

"Being crowned EuroLeague Women MVP was not something I thought was ever going to happen to me, but it did!

"The only thing I will ever associate that MVP title with, is the video that FIBA surprised me with during the ceremony. My family and friends congratulated me for being MVP and it touched me so hard. I know that they support me, but to see and hear it again, felt so so good.

"But to my people: at least spill the beans a little before something emotional like that, so I’d be prepared a little bit," laughed Meesseman.

Less than 24 hours later, Meesseman completed the job as Fenerbahce Alagoz Holding became EuroLeague Women winners for the very first time.

"I love writing history," she stated.

"It was amazing to be part of the wonderful team we had and to bring that long awaited cup to Istanbul. The emotions and happiness of the whole Fener family were so raw and real, and it makes me so proud. It is definitely one of the most heartwarming moments in my career," insisted the 30-year-old. 

But there was not a whole lot of time until the marker pen had been struck through that line of her list and it was on to national team duty and Belgium trying to make a splash at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2023.

"Yes, then the summer came," reflected Meesseman.

"Our preparation was a little unusual because we missed some of our main players for quite some time, due to long seasons and injuries. It was hard for me to know what shape we would start the tournament in.

"I know there were always more and more expectations of our team, but we tried to stay away from those. Not because we were scared or falsely modest, but only because we didn’t want to skip steps.

"Every year, our motto is step by step. It’s mine in my career as well. You don’t want to talk about a Final or even a medal when you still have to get through the first rounds. Upsets are always possible, that is how we got our first bronze medal at the 2017 edition."

Despite that initial caution and an element of entering something of the unknown, Meesseman found something extra - even for her stellar talent and abilities. It resulted in something jaw-dropping as Belgium took their first ever silverware at the prestigious event, with the forward wrapping up MVP honors, helped by a triple-double on the way to the top step of the podium and showing all her quality and experience in the title game too.

She mused: "We stayed focused, kept playing beautiful basketball together, broke some records and had fun. It resulted in more history, it was so unbelievable. The MVP was something extra for me and I am more proud of Julie Allemand and Julie Vanloo for joining me in the All-Star Five. It was so cool seeing them blossom on the biggest stage."

And just when you thought it couldn't get any better - either at the time, or now right in the front window of the memory bank, Meesseman can reflect on the other dimension that made it so memorable.

"I had won some titles already in my career, but this was actually my first one as a captain, where I got to receive the trophy itself.

"I had to to put it up in the air as the first one to receive it and then to take it to my team. That was such a special moment for me - and also nerve racking because all I was thinking was - please don’t trip," laughed Meesseman.

Yet even then, there was an even bigger cherry on the cake, That came in the shape of the Belgian public rightly showering their love and appreciation on the Cats for their accomplishment.  

"When we came back to Belgium, we realized a little bit more about what we did," reflected Meesseman.

"During tournaments, I try to stay away from social media as much as possible so I had no idea how Belgium was following us. But it became clear they really did.

"The fact that 1 million people watched the Final and then thousands of people came to welcome us in the center of Brussels. Then my hometown Ieper was so great to come back to and we were recognized everywhere, it was huge.

"It was the first time that I got to enjoy a Belgian Cats' achievement like that, since I decided to stay home from the WNBA.

"It is crazy how now kids dare to say: 'I will be a Belgian Cat' or even, 'I will be better than you!"

The wheel never stops turning. The building of a phenomenal legacy by Meesseman continues. 

Another EuroLeague Women title is on the current agenda, preceded by the very important FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2024 in Antwerp and perhaps followed by something remarkable at Paris 2024.

But as for this past year, Meesseman gave one final insight into why she is now such an iconic talent and potentially being considered as one of the all-time greats.

"I am only looking forward to my next game or goals, so this is the last time I will look back on 2023 - the next time will be after my career," concluded Messeman.