August 25, 2021 

Emma Meesseman decides not to play in the WNBA in 2021

The Washington Mystics had left the door open for Meesseman to join the team after the Olympics, but Meesseman said she needed to “take some extra time” for herself after a grueling summer of basketball

The 2019 WNBA Finals MVP will be Meesse-ing in action this season for the Washington Mystics.

The team announced on Tuesday that forward Emma Meesseman will not play in the WNBA this season after a taxing summer of international competition. In the 2021 FIBA Women’s EuroBasket tournament in June, Meesseman averaged 20.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in nearly 35 minutes per game to help the Belgian national team to a bronze medal. She followed that up by leading Belgium in scoring (26.8 points per game), rebounding (10.5), steals (3.5) and blocks (1.3) at the Tokyo Olympics. She was named to the All-Star Five as one of the top players in each tournament.

“The whole summer I thought and believed I would join the Mystics again after the European Championship and the Olympics, but it turns out the only right decision is to take some extra time for myself,” Meesseman said in the team’s press release. “I wish it was different because everybody knows I love the Mystics family. D.C. will continue to be my home away from home! I wish the team all the best and I’ll be rooting for them, like I always have.”

The Mystics are the only WNBA team that Meesseman has ever played for, as Thibault selected her in the second round of the 2013 WNBA Draft at age 19. In seven WNBA seasons, she has averaged 11.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 25.6 minutes per game.

Meesseman also sat out the 2018 season to rest and play with the Belgian national team. And she was widely considered the “missing piece” that helped the Mystics progress from runners-up in 2018 to 2019 WNBA champions. In the 2019 playoffs, she averaged 19.3 points per game on 58.3 percent shooting from the field and became the first player in WNBA history to win Finals MVP as a reserve. She then played a career-high 31.7 minutes per game in the 2020 regular season. And showed off her passing skills, setting career highs in assists per game and assist percentage.

Before the Mystics’ 78-68 win over Los Angeles on Tuesday night, Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault said he had been texting with Meesseman and understood how worn out she was.

“This summer wore on her. She has tried hard for the last couple of weeks to talk herself into coming, and she’s just not ready to get back on the basketball court,” he said. “… She gave a lot the last two years to our team [and] to her team in Russia, and her national team has gone through qualifications, EuroBasket, Olympics.”

Forward Myisha Hines-Allen, who was one of Meesseman’s roommates in the WNBA bubble last season, had mixed feelings about the news. “Of course I’m sad. That’s my friend. Before all this basketball stuff, that’s just a friend,” she said postgame. “… [But] you’ve got to think of what she’s done so far, how much she’s been playing. Her body needs rest … So I’m just happy for her and I’m glad she made the decision, but I wish she was over here.”

The Mystics had left the option open all season for Meesseman to return after the Olympics, but her decision was not a complete surprise. In addition to the fact that she had sat out for similar reasons in 2018, a few of Meesseman’s social media posts after Belgium lost in the Olympic quarterfinals suggested that she was dealing with a lot of emotions.

“Trying to figure out what to feel. There is disappointment, there is pride. There is frustration and also acceptance,” she wrote on Aug. 5. “There is a lot of sadness, but it goes together with being really grateful. It is a lot to take in and it’s going to take time to heal but I know one day, I will look back at this whole #Olympic experience with nothing but good memories.”

On Monday, Meesseman shared a post in her Instagram Stories titled, “A letter I wish I got post Olympics” about the malaise and confusion that can hit athletes after the Olympics. “I needed this so hard,” Meesseman wrote.

In the team’s release, Thibault said that he hopes to have Meesseman back in Washington in 2022—though she is technically an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any WNBA team. In the meantime, Meesseman’s decision is good news for Mystics center Megan Gustafson, who signed a rest-of-season contract on Wednesday after being on short-term contracts with the team since Jun. 21.

The Mystics, currently in tenth place with a 9-14 record, will attempt to make a late-season playoff push without Meesseman. But she won’t be far from their thoughts. Hines-Allen planned to call Meesseman on Wednesday, learning from several instances when she called teammates and Olympians Ariel Atkins and Leilani Mitchell in the middle of the night in Tokyo.

“I already checked—I was going to call her. But it’s three o’clock in the morning [in Belgium],” Hines-Allen said on Tuesday night. “… I’ll wait [until] tomorrow to tell her that I’m sad.”

Written by Jenn Hatfield

Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. (She also writes the "Family Rivalries" series for The Next.) Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats and FanSided.

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