The medal winners will obviously walk away from FIBA Women’s EuroBasket with a prize – Spain, France and Serbia will all be proud of their achievements in different ways. Their success has been well chronicled and each nation will continue to celebrate when they return home. Meanwhile, there were some teams at the tournament that arguably deserved to walk away with something – at least something more than a few ribbons exchanged between teams before the games.
The dreaded fourth place is a finish that most teams would rather avoid. All the effort of making it to the last day of EuroBasket ends with nothing. But for Britain, it marks the best result in the country’s history at an international tournament.
The plucky Brits are the only team to have played 7 games in 11 days as a result of finishing second to Spain in Group A and needing a qualification game to make it to the quarterfinals. The team lacked energy during the second half of the Serbian bronze-medal game, and after the loss, guard Stef Collins said: “We’re exhausted!”
But this is a program on the rise. Despite the loss, they still feel confident going in to the pre-Olympic qualifying games. The broad shoulders of Temi Fagbenle – who was one of EuroBasket’s All-Star Five – as the leading scorer of the tournament is the centrepiece the country has been looking to build around, alongside the supportive wing play of Karlie Samuelson and captain Joey Leedham-Warner. The team needs greater depth, but it can inspire a bold future for Britain as a basketball nation.
This experience will be valuable for the team and it will have high hopes going into November and February ahead of Tokyo 2020. As Head Coach Chema Buceta said passionately after the semifinal: “In Britain, they are talking about building basketball for the Olympics in 2028, but we are one game away from being in the Olympics next year. We are here now.”
The country has been building an elite basketball program incredibly slowly. Ann Wauters is now 38 years old and has been representing the team since the last millennium. She has seen its gradual rise and inspired players like Emma Meesseman – who was just six years old when Wauters first pulled on the international jersey – Julie Allemand and Kyara Linskens to now be on the cusp of the nation’s first appearance in the Olympics for women’s basketball. Throw in the tough but respected head coach in Philip Mestdagh, his daughters Kim and Hannah, and the energizer bunny that is Julie Vanloo, and this is a team that is making Belgium fall in love with basketball.
After finishing fourth at the FIBA Women’s World Cup in 2018, many had tipped Belgium as darkhorses to win EuroBasket outright. A heartbreaking overtime loss in the quarterfinals to the eventual silver medalist meant that the team would instead face a playoff game for a top six position and a chance to qualify for Tokyo 2020. Belgium beat Hungary to keep the Olympic dream alive, and for Wauters, who has seen the program build from nothing, she reassured everyone after the tournament that this is exactly what they wanted.
The ups and downs of the Swedish program in the past 10 years have been a source of frustration for the Eldebrink sisters. The twin guards Frida and Elin were battling for EuroBasket too eight positions at the start of their international careers but the success plummeted after 2013. However, with a strong post presence in Amanda Zahui B for right now and one for the future in Regan Margarity, this team looks set to return to its challenger status.
The team suffered a heavy defeat against Serbia in the quarterfinals, and it showed that there is still a difference between what the Swedes have been building and the top tier that is currently out of reach. However, at 31, the Eldebrinks will possibly have another Olympic run in them after Tokyo, and if the likes of Margarity and 19-year-old Klara Lundquist continue to develop, the team could be in a good position for the next EuroBasket tournament in 2021.