A Pleasant Surprise

“She’s going to make an impact on our team” – Mystics Head Coach Mike Thibault after one week of training camp.

Emma Meesseman turned 20 on Monday. Most players her age are gearing up for another year of college basketball or playing professionally overseas. But despite her youth, Meesseman is on her way to cracking a WNBA roster and the Mystics may have found themselves a keeper.

The Mystics drafted Meesseman with their second pick in the second round (#19 overall) and had hopes that she could compete for a roster spot. But, there is always concern seeing a player make the leap from European basketball to the WNBA, especially at such a young age.

“Sometimes with Europeans, you never know how their game will translate from being a great player in Europe to playing here in the states because the game is a little bit different. But Emma has really hung in there, she is very skilled, she takes her time, she doesn’t rush things. I’ve been very impressed with her,” said veteran forward Monique Currie, who is the longest tenured Mystic on the roster.

Through the first week of camp, Meesseman has shown both her coaches and teammates that her skills could translate into a formidable WNBA post player. The Mystics already have weapons down low who can play with their back to the basket, but Meesseman gives them an alternative as she can stretch the floor and has great perimeter skills. Coach Thibault thinks that could be just what this team needs to compliment the established post players on his roster.

“What we really needed was someone different from the post then what we had. We need someone who can play like a European, someone who can pick and pop, shoot the perimeter shot, and make passes. It’s been a perfect blend, Lang can go on the block or step out, Vaughn is more of a block player, and now Emma stretches the floor and she just does so many things on the perimeter, it’s just a good balance for our post.”

But where did she come from?

After leading her U18 Belgian team to a European Championship title and being voted top European Young Women’s player in 2011, Meesseman signed a four-year deal with the Russian powerhouse Spartak last summer. (According to lovewomensbasketball.com, they are allowing her to play her first two years closer to home in northern France while she continues her studies.)

Meesseman hails from Belgium and played this past season in France for Villeneuve, where she averaged 12.3 ppg and shot over 51% from the field.

This led lovewomensbasketball.com to call her “easily the best European available in the draft”, but Mystics Head Coach Mike Thibault was on alert well before that. Meesseman was on Thibault’s radar for the last few years while she played internationally and once she became eligible for the WNBA, he made it a priority to add her to his roster via the draft.

“I originally knew of Emma when she was 17 and played for the U18 Belgian national team. My coaching friends in Europe told me there is this young kid you need to keep an eye on, so I wrote it down on a piece of paper and put the year she would be eligible and tucked it aside. Then, every year I go through my notes on players and started talking to people and we got some film on her and watched some tape and she was pretty much as advertised.”

Once he saw the tape of her playing against WNBA caliber post players such as Jessica Davenport, he was convinced that she could be an impactful player in this league and put her on the Mystics draft board heading into April’s WNBA Draft.

“My feeling was in the 2nd round, we’ll take a chance on talent because very few 2nd round picks make the league and stay, so we’ll try and take someone whether she came right away or not, someone we would have the rights to and then someone that has a chance to be a really good player.”

Then Thibault received news that the Belgian star was interested in playing in the WNBA this year, which put he and his staff into action.

“We found out before the draft that she was interested in coming this year, so that made it more intriguing to us. We decided a couple of weeks before the draft that if we had a chance to take her that we would. We worked on her visa and got prepared for that and it’s just worked out great. She’s been terrific,” exclaimed Thibault.

Meesseman knows she has work to do and playing against the best players in the world won’t be a walk in the park, but she is ready for the challenge.

“At first, I was just happy to be here, and I had to make the adjustment from Belgian/French basketball to American. Now I know all the differences and what to do to be a part of it. It’s getting better each day, but I still have a lot to learn,” said the recently turned 20-year old.

With veterans like Langhorne, Snow, and Vaughn to play with in practice each day, she is taking a smart approach to improving.

“All practice long they give me tips when I do something wrong or to do something better. I trust them because they have a lot of experience in the league and they are older than me so I listen to them and try to do what they say.”

With a willingness to learn and the tools to perform, the Mystics may have struck international gold in Emma Meesseman.

You can follow Emma on Twitter at @EmmaMeesseman

For more Mystics Training Camp coverage, visit Training Camp Central.