Belgium is celebrated everywhere the Sky go
“I have so many messages from people from Belgium,” Julie Allemand said. “I don’t know them personally, but they say, ‘We’re coming here [to see you play].’ It’s amazing for them as it is for us.”
Before the victory against the Dallas Wings on July 16, their social-media direct messages were active.
Julie Allemand and Emma Meesseman of the Sky had a number of fans reach out to let them know they would be attending their first WNBA game and were eager to see them on the court and assistant Ann Wauters on the bench. Their presence exceeded everyone’s expectations.
The group of nearly 10 fans wasn’t just waving the Belgian flag, it was wearing it. From head to toe, the group was decorated in the flag’s three colors: black, yellow and red.
After autographs and conversations following the game, Meesseman and Allemand described a new level of support for Belgian WNBA players.
“I have so many messages from people from Belgium,” Allemand said. “I don’t know them personally, but they say, ‘We’re coming here [to see you play].’ It’s amazing for them as it is for us.”
Wauters became the first Belgian-born player in the WNBA when, at 19, she was drafted first overall by the Cleveland Rockers in 2000. After being named an assistant on James Wade’s staff in January, Wauters described the challenge of growing up without any basketball role models. For a long time, she didn’t know becoming a professional basketball player was even possible.
Her first visual came after a commercial promoting the league’s inaugural season aired in Europe.
Last summer, Wauters played on Belgium’s first national team to qualify for the Olympics in the last chapter of her playing career. Also on the Belgian national team’s roster were Meesseman and Allemand, whose careers were inspired in part by Wauters.
“The fact that we have three Belgian players and the Olympics last year brought us a lot of new fans,” Meesseman said. “It’s all coming together. I’m happy there’s growth. The WNBA is pretty hard to follow in Europe at times. The fact that they really check the schedule, plan their trips, we really appreciate it.”
The players’ connection to Wauters contributed heavily to their excitement to join Wade’s roster. Meesseman signed as a free agent, and Allemand was acquired in a trade. Wauters was set to step away from the game when Wade called and asked her to join his staff.
Meesseman and Allemand have fit seamlessly into Wade’s system, contributing to the argument that the fourth-year coach/general manager is deserving of executive of the year honors. Meesseman is averaging 12.8 points, six rebounds and 3.5 assists as a starter. Allemand is averaging 2.8 points and 3.6 assists in 16 minutes as the backup point guard to Courtney Vandersloot.
“Everything went perfect [during free agency],” Allemand said. “I was so excited to come here with Emma and Ann. I told myself, ‘OK, the Belgian national team is in Chicago.’ ’’
Vandersloot is set to miss her third consecutive game after suffering a concussion July 14 in the Sky’s win over the Los Angeles Sparks. In her absence, Allemand has stepped in as the starting point guard and managed the Sky’s veteran roster to two wins, including a victory over the Seattle Storm on Wednesday that clinched the team’s fourth straight playoff berth.
At every Sky game this season, home or away, Belgium has been well-represented on and off the court. As their supporters watch from the stands, Meesseman and Allemand look up from the court, noticing every time there’s a black, yellow and red flag waving in the crowd.
“We are a small country,” Allemand said. “It’s a dream [for us], and I think they are really happy to support us.”