ANTWERP, BELGIUM – Every successful team needs someone to hold things together and provide the glue for those around them. And fortunately for Belgium, they have one of the best in Antonia Delaire.
The winger has been an unsung hero so far, and if anyone has any doubts about her importance and influence for the Cats, consider this overlooked statistic.
Delair played 32 minutes per game for Belgium in his Tokyo 2020 Olympic debut three years ago, more than any other player on the team. Yes, more than Julie Allemand, more than Julie Vanloo, and more than the wonderful Emma Meessman.
Delaire isn’t just the glue for the Cats, he’s the very glue.
But unlike Messeman, Allemand and Vanloo, she never keeps her name in the spotlight. Her highlight reel is sparse, and the buzz that gets her attention in the media is lacking, at least compared to her peers.
But Delaire is part of a key quarter that powered Belgium’s rise to greatness.
Delaire (far left) won gold at youth level for Belgium alongside Messeman and Vanloo.
Those who value it most are her team-mates, coaching staff and those who have been around her for about 15 years, following her successful youth and senior years.
Now, Belgian Cats fans are increasingly appreciating her valuable contributions on the court. And on Friday night, the 29-year-old punched her ticket to Paris 2024 in front of her family and friends in her home city as her team defeated Senegal 97-66.
“The attendance has been great, 10 years ago we played to about 50 people and now (Friday) we’re sold out,” Delaire said.
“Doing this in Antwerp, my hometown, is even more special because the fans are amazing and have been there since day one.
“Doing this with fans makes it even more special, and I tasted these ‘Chicken Bubbles’ [on my arms] come to court. It’s the best feeling ever.
“It’s so much fun doing this with them. [my family and friends] Because they’ve been there since I was little,” she added.
Delaire tasted gold last year when Belgium won the FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2023 title.
Having never qualified for an Olympics before, this is the second consecutive Olympic qualification for the Belgian generation, and history awaits as the Cats head to the neighboring country for the big event later this year. I wonder if it is?
For now, there is no talk of a possible first podium, but this situation will not last long, as expectations will be high for this golden generation.
“I don’t think we could have ever believed that we could do this twice for such a small country,” Delaire said.
“It’s very special to work with this group and I think we can still improve. I think we can dream big for Paris, but for now let’s just have fun,” she smiled.
Delaire and the team will be looking forward to Sunday’s game against Nigeria in what is sure to be a spine-chilling spectacle from the crowd of over 10,000 who will travel to Paris 2024.
She will then return to her day job at Perfumerias Avenida ahead of the EuroLeague women’s quarter-finals, further evidence of the level and value that Delaire brings to the teams she plays for.