| ||Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various web-sites and publications across Europe. If you would like to contact Paul you can e-mail him here firstname.lastname@example.org. |
When Belgium tipped off their EuroBasket Women 2011 Qualifying Round this summer there was more to cheer than the presence of star pairing Ann Wauters and Kathy Wambe. For the occasion also marked the entrance on the big stage of an exciting new generation of potential future stars for Belgian Basketball with the arrival of dynamic duo Julie Vanloo and Emma Meesseman.
The talented seventeen year olds, who have both excelled at youth level have been given the chance to play together at senior level by Coach Arvid Diels and endured a dream come true for two players who even at such a tender age, look to have great careers ahead of them.
Not surprisingly, both were left absolutely thrilled when they were told they would be involved, while an opening day win alongside their idols against Italy made the experience even sweeter - as did being able to share the experience with each other.
"From the day I knew I was in the team I was always thinking about the times I would be training and next the court. I kept asking myself - how will it be with Ann Wauters, Kathy Wambé.?" said Meesseman.
"Now I am here, it is still a dream! It's hard but I am learning a lot!
"Before every game I am nervous like every other player I think. I know I will always be nervous before a game - that won't change.
"Of course it's a bit different since it's at the highest level. I always keep my eyes open on the bench and sometimes when I get onto the court. I always try to learn as much as possible."
"After the Italy game I was very satisfied since I tasted the way we play at that level. We also played for a public of more than 1000 people, all supporting Belgium! It was an amazing feeling but to be honest, I thought it would be even tougher on the court."
"I was really proud since Italy is a good basketball country and the fact that I played for a few minutes, made it even cooler for me!"
She added "I'm still very happy that Julie is here. We talk about the same things. We played together for over 6 years, so we know each others style."
|Julie Vanloo spends 12 minutes on the court as a back-up of Kathy Wambe and posts 4.4 points per game|
Meanwhile for Vanloo it was slightly less daunting since she has already experienced some court time for the senior team although she too admitted to being left star-struck.
"It's actually my second time I have been called to play games with the senior team so it wasn't really new for me, but this time with Ann Wauters and Kathy Wambe in the team it's a dream come true for me." explained the guard.
"I'm not a girl who will jump around because I am selected, I stayed cool, and I knew that I would have to work hard for my minutes."
"I was really, really nervous, but I had confidence in myself and in my team and coach! We won so that was really cool! There were a lot of people to watch us, but that was for Ann Wauters of course."
"I am happy that the coach has given me one chance to know what it is like to play at such a high level with the stars. Last year the stars weren't with us and so I played a lot but this time it's different. I don't play as much but I enjoy every single minute on and off the court."
"Last year Emma wasn't with the team and I missed her because she also knows what is in the mind of young people like us. We think really differently than the older players who have more experience. Now Emma is also my roommate, so she is an important friend for me."
The presence of Wauters in particular means the two new pupils are now getting taught at the highest level by a true master and one of the biggest stars of European basketball. Her influence on the fledgling stars is immeasurable and it has given the pair an even greater impetus to now succeed in their careers.
"Ann has a great personality and she helps us a lot." explained Vanloo.
"She helps me to give good passes at the right time and she helps Emma because she plays the same position."
"It's really cool to play with a star who has so much experience! It's incredible to see how strong she is inside - if I walk into a screen off her then I'm left feeling so dizzy!"
"My dream is the WNBA and I really want to play there like Ann did. I will work hard to get there and of course into EuroLeague Women too."
"I will play in Waregem next season and I really want to be a champion in Belgium. My coach is the same coach of the U17 National Team so he knows me well. I don't know really what I'm going to do after I graduate from high school but I will play basketball that's for sure."
"As for exactly where - well I don't know yet!"
For Meesseman the fantastic opportunity to work alongside Wauters is likely to pay even more dividends with the pair sharing the same spot.
"Ann is really good and I am lucky that we play on the same position so she can give me tips. I try to use them as much as possible. When she makes one of her moves to the basket, I am sometimes a bit surprised that it is a score. She actually reads where the defences are and always finds a way to the basket."
Also as with Vanloo, education is just as important as basketball in the next 12 months for Meesseman as she shrewdly ensures her fall back plan is rock solid in the longer term.
"I have one year left with Leper in Belgium. Where I will play after that, depends on my studies but of course I want to play as high as I can. EuroLeague Women, the WNBA and playing competitions in other great countries, maybe even the Olympics. These are all dreams that I really, really want to come true."
"Firstly, my parents prefer that I finish school first. I guess you never know when your basketball career ends, but I hope not very soon!" laughed the teenager.
The final word from this exciting frontcourt and backcourt combo came from Vanloo who while undoubtedly loving life in the fast lane of EuroBasket Women Qualifying Round action, was quick to put the disappointment of missing out on a medal at the U17 FIBA World Championships earlier this summer firmly into context.
"I'm a bit sad that we don't have any medal but listen, it was the most beautiful time of my life. They now have so many fans in France it was so nice to play there. I had a great time on and off the court with my team."
"I was also proud to be the captain of such a hard working team! It was a great time and we played a great tournament because we beat Spain, Australia, China and Japan and we played a semi-final - I think that's nice for Belgium!"
Nice indeed - but not as nice as the potential impact this pairing could potentially have on Belgium Basketball across the next 10-15 years.