By Scott Mammoser
WASHINGTON – It’s not every day you see the MVP of a championship series come off the bench. Then again, Emma Meesseman isn’t the type of player you find every day. The 6-foot-4 Washington Mystics forward lifted the WNBA Finals MVP trophy on Thursday night after scoring 11 of her 22 points in the third quarter of the clinching Game 5 win over the Connecticut Sun, 89-78.
“I just really wanted to win this game,” said Meesseman, 26, who scored in double figures in all five Finals games, with a high of 23 in Game 2. “I just came on the court, and it was a moment that we needed some energy, and I was just going to the basket, and it was going in, so I just kept going. Coach (Mike Thibault) has been talking about, if your shot is going in, or even if not, you just have to take your opportunity. I don’t think I would have done this a year ago or two years in the past. I think these playoffs were the moment that I really realized that I have to take my responsibility and I can play.”
Meesseman missed all of the 2018 Mystics season and Finals run, preparing the Belgian national team for its first-ever World Cup appearance. The team wound up finishing in fourth place, with Meesseman second in the tournament in scoring and first in rebounding at about 18 and 11 per game. She was limited to 23 WNBA games in 2019, while Belgium placed fifth in EuroBasket behind her 19.8 points per game. The team has qualified for one of the four Olympic Qualifying Tournaments next year.
“She’s one of the top players in the world,” added Mystics coach Mike Thibault. “I needed to put pressure on her. She was more nervous the other day that she was today (Thursday).”
Thibault took over the job of Mystics head coach and general manager in December 2012, and one of his first accomplishments was selecting the 19-year-old Meesseman 19th overall in that spring’s draft. Washington was coming off a five-win season at the time, and no one knew what to expect. Meesseman was named an All-Star in 2015, and this season, she scored 13 points per game, second on the team, behind league MVP Elena Delle Donne, with just six games in the starting lineup.
“Messy is a very, very, very good basketball player,” Mystics guard Kristi Toliver said, “and I think coming from Belgium, coming from a smaller country, where sport isn’t everything, it’s not like that big of a deal. The platform isn’t as big. When it’s here, it’s enormous. So for her, her humility, just being a good person, a great teammate, an amazing basketball player, she was the missing piece.”
The Finals MVP was only the second in WNBA history for a foreign-born player, joining that of Seattle’s Lauren Jackson (Australia) in 2010. To put into perspective, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tony Parker and Dirk Nowitzki are the only international players to be named NBA Finals MVP. With Belgium a prime favorite to qualify for Tokyo next summer, there’s no telling how high Meesseman could go.