01/16/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 01/16/2020 06:46
OSTEND (Belgium) - On paper at least, it looks like we could have a particularly epic FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament on our hands in Belgium and so the headline names could have an even more important role to play.
Here are five players who could be the main driving forces for their respective teams when action gets underway in Ostend.
Emma Meesseman - Belgium
There are few players in the women's global game who have impressed or achieved as much as Meesseman in these past couple of years, having rocketed to prominence on both sides of the Atlantic. The kingpin of the Belgian Cats, everything goes through her and yet when teams try and lock her down, it is much easier said than done. The consistency of the UMMC Ekaterinburg standout is just incredible and her unflappable character is impeccable. She is always an All-Star Five contender at the big events, is always riding high in the scoring and rebound charts, is a game-winner in waiting every time she steps out. It's hard to look past the reigning WNBA Finals MVP as the player to watch at this event, since she showed with the Washington Mystics last year how to get things done and make history.
Kia Nurse - Canada
For many years, Canada had a nice gear which they engaged when they played. But they arguably lacked the 'X-Factor' player, someone who can play 1-on-1 when needed, rack up points in a hurry and deliver in the clutch. Having a WNBA baller like Nurse, who has been playing in Australia of late, gives Canada a significant scoring punch which they would struggle to do without. Since bursting onto the senior scene way ahead of her years, she has continued to make strides. If Canada are to get to Tokyo, then they need every drop of her class, athletic ability and willingness to execute off the dribble with that mid-range pull-up that is hard to defend against. It is difficult to envisage anything other than Nurse having a sizable impact on this tournament.
Amanda Zahui - Sweden
It would not be over-exaggerating to say that Zahui is emerging as something of an iconic figure due to her contributions on the court for her country, but also the well-documented work she is doing off the floor too. She has cut through into the mainstream for her views and her work with community projects. Ask anybody about the center and you will get glowing words about her as a person, just as much as you will about her game. And, that is saying something considering her immense ability which sees her regularly leading the way in points and rebounds. She is a nightmare to defend because she has that extended shooting range beyond the perimeter and often forgotten is that she can turn the defensive screw too. Rock solid WNBA and EuroLeague Women quality, Zahui has played these past months in China and a large chunk of Sweden's Olympic hopes will be laid at her door.
Asami Yoshida - Japan
A legend of not only basketball in Japan, but also Asian women's ball in general, the world was shocked when the point guard announced she was retiring last year. Fortunately for everyone who loves a highlights reel, Yoshida re-considered and agreed to pull the national team vest back over her head. We can still hear the palpable relief and rejoicing from fans beyond Tokyo because the women's game is richer for having this high octane assists-machine back on the court. She will remain a key heartbeat of the Japan team and with her extended experience, having seen and done it all before, she ticks the leadership box in a big way too for the Olympic hosts.
Julie Allemand - Belgium
While Meesseman will inevitably be leading the hosts of this tournament, the onus on the backcourt to keep their composure will be simply intense. The nerves were out in force last year throughout the Belgian Cats' team at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket in Belgrade, so with supporters expectant, home advantage can work both ways. Much of the responsibility will fall onto the shoulders of Allemand to execute and keep a calm head in the playmaking spot. With last year's experience a valuable one and lots of court time against the best in EuroLeague Women with LDLC Asvel Feminin, she can be a difference-maker. She can also score when needed, but as we saw at her last global event, the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2018, creativity is what she does best. Plus, as you can see with Nurse and Yoshida above, some classic duels lie in wait, so defense will also be crucial.