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Meesseman: Hopes, fears and dreams
TENERIFE (FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2018) - Fate has determined Emma Meesseman will tread the boards at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2018 in Tenerife after all.
A couple of weeks ago, it had looked like some of her best laid plans were about to be torn up and shredded in rather cruel fashion.
Relief as the dream stays alive
The Belgians held their collective breaths when their centerpiece went down injured after a heavy fall in a preparation game and no doubt the heart of Meeseman skipped a beat, during that split second when an entire 15 months of planning almost went up in flames.
Having skipped the entire WNBA season to focus on preparing for her country’s first ever appearance at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, it would have been torturous to have been denied this global bow in Belgian colors.
Not least, because Meeseman also missed out on the Washington Mystics riding their way to their first ever WNBA Finals. Additionally, she can also justifiably question when Belgium might be at the event again, with frontcourt partner Ann Wauters, about to compete at what had threatened to be an ever-present gap on her glittering resume.
With all of this in mind, it’s barely a surprise that Meesseman is keen to make sure that Belgium take their opportunity with both hands and make the most of their time on the Canary Islands.
"I hope that we can give everything we have, because the only thing I fear is that we go home with regrets and a feeling that we could have done more," mused the reigning EuroLeague Women MVP.
"I hope we can stay for the whole of the tournament and finish in the top 8 and write another page of history for Belgian basketball.
"For me personally, finishing third last year at the Women’s EuroBasket was special and I want to leave Spain with the same kind of feeling.
"What happened [in Prague] still feels like a dream to me and it was important for me to give everything to prepare for this tournament here in Tenerife.
"These teammates are friends of mine and it is a very different feel to be playing for your country rather than a professional club team."
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Expectations are indeed high - perhaps too high. Wauters has mentioned gunning for the Semi-Finals, while Meesseman wants at least the Quarter-Finals. It’s something of a crazy notion, considering Belgium have never been to the party previously. Much of this is steeped in a desire to continue the momentum and increase the impact their success is having back home.
"We do have big goals, but they are not impossible," she reiterated.
"As this is our first tournament, there is actually more pressure on us from those on the outside and people probably do expect too much. But we have to look at ourselves and really, we have no fears other than not playing our best basketball.
"We also want to make sure that a lot of young people in Belgium continue looking at us as idols and pick up a basketball. After last year and the things we did, more and more girls are coming into the game. They are also following us on social media, while we have more support from the mainstream media and have had games shown on television.
"We all want to keep it going this way, because it is important for those smaller kids to play basketball and to know that we all dreamed it ourselves and showed it is possible."
On the topic of wanting to avoid regrets, Meesseman is adamant she did the right thing by pushing the pause button on her WNBA career. Especially as she was riding the crest of a wave after winning EuroLeague Women Final Four with UMMC Ekaterinburg.
She declared: "I am very proud of Mystics and what they achieved, but don’t have any regrets at all, because I had more time to rest my body, to be ready and to spend some time with my family and friends.
"I was watching and following Mystics closely and am proud they reached the Finals. I was not thinking about them not winning it without me, I was very sorry they could not win it all."
Life alongside a legend
When the curtain is raised on the action in Tenerife, Meesseman will carry the hopes of her nation on her shoulders, with the legendary Wauters also picking up a big slice of that burden.
There will be much scrutiny on the veteran and whether she can last the distance, having also suffered with injury concerns.
However, Meeseman was quick to underline the incredible impact the legend has on the team - both on and off the court.
"Ann is so experienced and is the mother of our team as we are all much younger, but at same time, she is still playful and joyful with us all," she explained.
"Even if she is the Queen of Belgian basketball, she doesn’t act that way, because she is actually the real glue of our team and I am so happy she is here and I am able to play alongside her.
"She calms us all down on court, because we don’t have enough experience and can sometimes be too energetic and try to move too fast in some games. In fact, even if she is not playing and on the bench, she is still very important for this reason.
"I think we are doing things as a country on the court, that even she has never done before with the national team. So, she is really enjoying it and who knows? Maybe there is an Olympics to finish with – even if that seems far away at this moment.
"Yes, we're really not ready to play without her yet and we are all doing what we can to keep her with us for even longer," smiled Meesseman.
Belgium will face fellow newcomers Puerto Rico, Asian champions Japan and hosts Spain in Group C.