Brussels, Belgium – It is nearly 10 p.m. local time in downtown Brussels and the capital city is buzzing. The Christmas markets have been set up for a few days and there are lines for wine, Belgian cuisine and crafts such as pottery that have from come as far away as Hungary.
As you walk down the street you can hear the most common languages of French, Flemish and English but one can also make out German, Russian, Spanish and Italian. Brussels is home to the European Union and has the vibe of New York City.
It is here in Belgium, a country of about 12 million people that is known for its beer, chocolate and waffles, in which Kahleah Copper has come for her first season of pro basketball overseas. She averaged 21 points per game in her first five Belgian games and 13.8 points per contest in her first four Euro Cup contests.
A guard/forward who was a rookie this past season for the Mystics, Copper is a former standout at Rutgers who is spending this winter in the small town less than one hour south of Brussels. She is one of several Mystics who is playing pro hoops overseas during the winter season.
“It has been a big adjustment for me on and off the court,” according to Copper, who averaged 6.2 points and 3.1 rebounds in 2016 for the Mystics. “Off the court: first, the streets are very different here, so driving was my first adjustment. There aren’t many street signs and the person to the right has the priority. That’s very important here because there aren’t many stop signs so I have to really pay attention. Also many of their stores close early so if I need groceries I have to shop early.”
Long-time Mystics fans are certainly aware of other Belgian connections to the team.
Veteran center Emma Meesseman, who averaged 15.2 points per contest this past season, grew up in Belgium. She was averaging 12 points per contest in EuroLeague play for her Russian team in early December.
Copper and Meesseman are two of several Mystics who have headed overseas, where they can work on their skills and also supplement their yearly salary. Copper is living in Braine-I’Alleud, which dates to the 12th century and is not far from the site of the famous battle of Waterloo of 1815.
Kia Vaughn, who has been with the Mystics since 2013, averaged 16.4 points in her first five Czech Republic league games for a team in Prague. The former Rutgers standout averaged 13.5 points per contest in the first four games in Euro Cup contests after averaging 6.4 points per contests for the Mystics this year.
“The speed of college basketball mixed with the experience of a WNBA players and the youth of college players are the makings of Euro leagues,” Vaughn wrote in early December. “You find women as old as 40 and as young as 16/17 playing on some Euroleague teams. Some have been on the same teams playing in European competition from very young ages. It’s actually amazing to me. I enjoy playing in Europe. I get to travel and see the world outside of the United States.”
Shooting guard Tayler Hill averaged 20.3 points per contest in her first three games for a team in Israel. Drafted in the first round by the Mystics out of Ohio State in 2013, she averaged 15.4 points per contest for Washington this past summer.
University of Utah product Leilani Mitchell was scoring more than 15 points per contest for a team in Sydney, Australia. A second-round draft pick by Phoenix in 2008, she played in 10 games for the Mystics in 2016.
Former University of Dayton standout Ally Malott, who played in 23 games for the Mystics this past season, averaged eight points in her first nine games for a team in Australia.
Guard Natasha Cloud, a product of Maryland and Saint Joseph’s in Philadelphia, is playing this winter for Townsville in Australia. She was averaging 4.2 assists per contest in early December after averaging 3.8 assists in 31 games for the Mystics this past season.
“My goals or this winter overall is to become a better player,” says Copper. “I want to work on the things I have to get better at such as being a better passer rebounder and shooter from 3-point land. I want to be the best player in this league and I want to win a championship – Euro cup and Belgium league championship.”
Americans that play overseas can also experience a new culture, many for the first time.
“I haven’t ever been to another country before heading to Belgium but since I’ve been here I have traveled both for basketball and for my own pleasure,” says Copper. “During the national team break I traveled to Israel. I was in Tel Aviv there I went to the beach and saw my mystic teammate Tayler Hill. For basketball I have been to Portugal and Spain for Euro Cup games.”
Many Americans who play overseas suddenly have extra time on their hands, which was not the case while in college. Vaughn is in Prague, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and a popular stopping off point for American tourists.
“When we have off, I’m relaxing and doing whatever comes to mind that will make me happy on that day,” notes Vaughn. “If that’s reading, FaceTime-ing a loved one all day, movies, walking outsides and so on. I will do it. We have two practices every day here. Playing in two leagues and between practice, I’m normally napping. Helps my day go by faster.”
Editor’s note: David Driver is a free-lance writer who has covered college and pro basketball in the Washington area for 25 years. He has also written about European basketball for the last 12 years, including three years while living in Hungary. Driver has filed stories from 10 European countries and can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com