Washington Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault believed he drafted a sleeper and perhaps a future star in Belgium native Emma Meesseman. What he didn't realize in the spring of 2013 was the interior forward with hearing limitations in both ears doubled as a vocal soccer fan.
"When she came here last year, she professed not to have a huge interest in (international soccer)," Thibault said. "Maybe she was trying to be protective. Then when Belgium beat the U.S. in that friendly last year, she talked trash about it the next day."
With Belgium and the United States set to meet in a round of 16 World Cup knockout match on Tuesday, Washington's leading rebounder isn't hiding her national pride anymore.
"We're going to win. We have a good team....We're going to beat them," Belgium's lone player in the WNBA stated with smiling certainty before Sunday's home game against San Antonio.
Meesseman - she's the one on the far left in the picture above - has good reason to be confident with the World Cup matchup. Belgium allowed one goal en route to winning Group H with a 3-0 record. The Red Devils are 2-0 versus the U.S. since 2011.
"Everybody in Belgium expects us to go far because we have a good team and a high ranking. It would be great (to win the World Cup) because we have such a small country and nobody else is expecting that...Some people don't even know where we are (located)," the 21-year-old cracked.
On Tuesday afternoon, Meesseman won't be located in her European country but at a Belgian restaurant in Washington. Her best friend from home is stateside and brought enough national team gear for both. Whether or not any of her Mystic teammates join Meesseman for the game, she'll make sure to get in some playful jabs ahead of time and hopefully, with a Belgium win, after.
Thibault won't let her go regardless of any soccer outcome. Scouting contacts led to him discovering the point-producing forward with high and low post moves plus a high hoops IQ. Thibault also learned Meesseman was born with only 50 percent hearing overall and has worn hearing aids in both ears since she was a young child.
Washington selected Meesseman 19th overall in the 2013 draft. If eligible for the 2015 draft, her name would be called significantly earlier.
"She'd (only) be a college senior this coming year," Thibault noted with a devilish laugh, the kind that emanates from those who know they pulled a fast one. "In next year's college draft, she might be the first pick. I'd take her over any college senior next year."
This offseason, Thibault traded Crystal Langhorne, Washington's best player for several years running, in part to give Meesseman more minutes. The 6-foot-4 forward is averaging 9.0 points. 6.4 rebounds and shooting 93 percent from the free throw line. She set career-high's with 22 points and 13 rebounds on Friday in Washington's win over Connecticut.
Perhaps nobody is more surprised with her early success than Meesseman herself.
"Last year I didn't even expect to be here," she said. "I got drafted by surprise then I came here and thought I would only be here for training camp, then played the whole season, played every game. It's kind of gone fast. It's still sometimes hard to believe I'm here right now, but it's good. I'm having fun."
She'll have a lot more fun if Belgium triumphs on Tuesday. Too much trash talk to take back now.
"I just hope we will win otherwise I can't come back. That's how it's got to be."