by Eurohoops Team / email@example.com
Latvians might be still longing for a major tournament in basketball since 2017, but at least they have hope now.
After former Montepaschi Siena and Armani Milano coach Luca Banchi joined the bench last summer, they won all their 12 games but one (lost to Serbia with one possession). During the recent World Cup qualifier window, triumphs against Turkey and Great Britain led them to climb to the top of the group. It’s been almost 10 months since Latvia lost an official calendar game.
We caught Banchi in Amsterdam airport, on his way to Rome from Newcastle. The Italian coach kindly answered our questions about the recent surge of Latvian NT and coaching Kristaps Porzingis.
– Coach seems like you have the magic touch because Latvia did not lose for over a year other than that Serbia game where it was all down to a single possession. In the meantime, you beat Serbia in Riga, and then Belgium and Slovakia, twice. Turkey and Great Britain games were also great wins. How do you reckon all these?
I don’t have a magical touch of course. It is a combination of the mutual desire to achieve. This squad is very motivated and I believe they are on a good path. I’m trying just to give them the vision with the proper effort and going through values that are part of their identity. We are really building a winning system.
Yes, we had a good period with two good wins but rather, let’s not forget that we started from a very low point: the Pre-qualifier games. We had to play against Romania, and Belarus to reach the first round of World Cup qualification. That’s something that I used to make my players remember every time.
We are now living in this great cloud where everything is working well, we are first in the group, and we are beating great teams like Turkey and Serbia or Belgium, but we should not get carried away. On the other hand, we deserved such good results due to our efforts and better team spirit. In one year I nearly dealt with 30-35 different players, but the level was always the same, regardless of the personnel, that makes me happy.
– But it must be hard for you because this team showed what it is capable of with NBA stars like Kristaps Porzingis, Davis Bertans, and co. But you are not in the Eurobasket, does that hurt a little bit?
In my point of view, to see that potentially very good team not playing in the Eurobasket feels bitter of course. But this situation is mostly connected with the rules because the NBA and Euroleague players can not join the NT during the winter windows. In a small country like Latvia, let’s say your 10 best players are not available due to their Euroleague or NBA commitments, it is hard to compensate. In Spain, in Greece, in Italy, in France, you can recruit a huge number of players. We have a very limited number of players in that respect.
On the other hand, I joined the team coming from two big failures in the last two Eurobasket editions. The last time they managed to qualify was in 2017, so that is an extra motivation for me. To enter this program and try to invert the tendency and give all the program the vision about what type of effort we need to come back at the level we were supposed to belong. To tell you the truth, it seems like the guys are really focused on this mission and they are trying to follow that direction.
– We see many other federations appealing to naturalized players. Lately, Spain recruited Lorenzo Brown in the point guard position which became a controversial topic again. What is your opinion and what is Latvia’s standpoint on this issue?
Latvia decided from the very beginning not to use any naturalized players, like the ones from the USA. The federation has a very specific policy and they are proud of their basketball.
In some way, winter windows pushed the federations to find some shortcut to maintain a good level of competitiveness. There are countries like Bosnia, Romania, and Montenegro, that use those players to keep a high level of competitiveness, not only in the summer but also in the winter windows. I believe we have to make a wider evaluation of the actual format of the qualification period because I believe the format is not working anymore. Or at least we have to find a solution for Euroleague and NBA players’ schedules to allow the teams to use their best roster. Now, the teams are using two different pictures; one during winter and one during summer. The naturalized players, it is a consequence of this picture.
– So actually, you think that it is the format of qualification and the relevant windows that needs to be changed?
The actual format is not helping basketball. I like the idea that only Euroleague and FIBA would sit at the table and adjust the players’ schedules to allow the best players to participate. Players and coaches prove that they want to play in the national team but the schedule impedes the players to participate. It seems there is a war and the weak part in this war is the players, the federation, and their health.
The calendar played in June and July windows as well as August windows, just 2 days before the start of Eurobasket is something that puts the players under pressure the players and their health. I believe that injuries are the only consequence when you are not preparing the schedule.
– Let’s talk a little bit about coaching Kristaps Porzingis. You are quite an experienced coach but this must be feeling different. How does this presence affect the team?
It was an amazing feeling. The player is very coachable. Porzingis has a high basketball knowledge. He is an elite athlete and elite basketball player.
I have no doubts the last two weeks for me were the highest peak in my career. Because when you can coach a team with players like Porzingis and Davis Bertans, together they are counting like 45$ million as salary, it is a kind of unique privilege. It is an honor and also a very easy job. Because those players have the capability to facilitate the game, they draw much attention to themselves and create easy opportunities for their teammates.
For the record, the team in general is very coachable. The players really like to play for NT. There is a generation who used to play together, there are some players who actually played Eurobasket 2017 so actually, they feel this mission about World Cup as a possibility to avenge the absences in the major tournaments.
My job was first of all to convince the teammates to play with personality and not to be too stressed because of the presence of such important players. Sometimes the tendency is to be completely devout to the stars. But at the of the day, we have an identity, we have a style. We have some players with good basketball personalities who can take important initiative.