At a digital press conference in Cordoba, Ann Wauters and national coach Philip Mestdagh of the Belgian Cats returned to the non-selection of the five-time European Player of the Year for the upcoming European Championship. “It’s still hard to swallow, but I’ve turned the switch and from now on everything goes in function for me towards the Olympic Games in Tokyo,” said Ann Wauters, who is still very upset.
“Last summer we already included this theme with Ann and the sporting staff,” said national coach Philip Mestdagh. “I immediately said that she would be in the preselection for the European Championship and the Olympic Games and that she would complete the first practice matches. Then we would see where we stand. This week in Spain we took the plunge and it was decided to only contest Ann in one tournament in this busy and physically demanding summer. No European Championship, but the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The final decision is my responsibility. The result at the European Championships will also have no influence on the selection of Ann Wauters for the Olympic Games. She goes to the games. And if there is criticism I will take it. I can take a beating.”
“Coach Philip has a strong personality and what he tells is the truth”, adds Wauters. “But of course I cannot deny that this decision comes as a shock to me. I like being with the Cats and with this talented selection where I can help with my experience on and off the parquet. That I can’t finish two tournaments in a row? I can’t deny that I am struggling with cartilage injuries on both knees. I’m not twenty anymore and I don’t have the same physical capabilities anymore. However, I respect this decision and I remain fully behind this group and sporting staff.”
“After returning to Belgium, I will continue to train with the Belgian Cats next week, but will not play in the last practice matches against Greece and before the departure to the European Championship. Coach Philip has to prepare his selection for the European Championship there. I myself will continue to train individually and after a hopefully successful European Championship for Belgian basketball, I will return to the group and towards preparation for the Olympic Games. This is for the final chapter of my sporting career,” said the Belgian basketball icon.
Four ECs for Wauters
Ann Wauters has 126 selections for the Belgian Cats and participated in four European championships: Greece 2003 (6th), Italy 2007 (7th), Czech Republic 2017 (bronze) and Serbia 2019 (5th). In 2018 she finished fourth with the Belgian Cats at the World Championships (Tenerife) and in 2020 she qualified for the Olympic qualifying tournament for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. At club level, she was named European Player of the Year five times and four times won the Euroleague, the most important European cup in basketball. She has won cups and titles in America (WNBA), Russia, France, Spain, South Korea and Turkey and is one of the great Belgian sports icons ever.
The fact that a figure like Wauters is not selected for a European Championship naturally causes a lot of commotion in and around the Belgian Cats. It is correct that she is not top fit and performs as in the “good old days”. But couldn’t she have finished two top tournaments in a row? This as ‘twelfth woman’ with a limited input on the field, but mainly as a guide for those young and inexperienced talents of the Belgian Cats. Fortunately, she can take on that role at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. At the largest global sporting event, the experience, leadership and especially the realism of Wauters will be much needed for a successful Olympic Games of the Cats.
Mestdagh captain at EC
Kim Mestdagh will take over the captain’s armband from Ann Wauters at the European Championships (17 to 27 June). “After consultation with Emma Meeseman and Kim Mestdagh, that has been decided. Both agreed, but Kim becomes the captain on Eurobasket. After the European Championships, she will hand over this function back to Ann Wauters towards the Olympic Games (23 July-8 August), “said national coach Philip Mestdagh.