Luca Banchi says they’ve “entered Latvian basketball history”

2023-09-02T06:45:54+00:00 2023-09-02T06:40:16+00:00.

Cesare Milanti

02/Sep/23 06:45

The Latvian national team’s head coach spoke to Eurohoops before the second round in the 2023 FIBA World Cup

By Cesare Milanti /

MANILA, Philippines – Imagine starting the 2023 FIBA World Cup – the first-ever in the country’s history – by going through a Group that puts you against Canada and France. You manage to overcome it, and then you have to battle the reigning champions. And once again, you write history.

Answering the question “What was the most unexpected surprise so far in the 2023 FIBA World Cup?”, Latvia must be the response you’re looking for. And this couldn’t have been possible without Luca Banchi, who yesterday night beat the winningest head coach in FIBA’s modern history. Another Italian, Sergio Scariolo.

“Another historic, memorable evening. We’ve entered Latvian basketball history”, he said to Eurohoops right after the special victory against Spain. “Honestly, there were a few moments of discouragement, thanks to the difficulties we had especially in the closing of the third period to keep the bar straight under the defensive and offensive pressure of Spain”, the Italian head coach added.

However, this must be – once again – another basketball night to remember in Riga and its surroundings, and Luca Banchi knows it. “But I would say that in terms of continuity and consistency perhaps it is our best performance, and we deserved this victory that now leaves us open to the possibility of aiming for qualification while being aware of being linked to a series of results”, he added.

Now, Latvia will face the Brazilian national team, which surprised as well most of the basketball world by having the upper hand against Canada, in what will come out as a do-or-die game: who wins, goes to Manila for the knockout round. “But at the moment it’s not the main thought we have”, the head coach said before slightly touching on the next opponent. “We want to produce another quality match after Brazil, it won’t be easy. It is imperative to have no regrets, for a demonstration that until today, despite injuries, has seen us protagonists. We hope to make a good game, and then we’ll see”, Luca Banchi added.

Before heading to the clash against Sergio Scariolo’s squad – whom he praised already -, Luca Banchi talked with Eurohoops about the previous feat in Jakarta’s Group H, eliminating France and putting the Canadian national team in danger.

First, tho, he went back to the first encounter against Lebanon, dominating from start to end. “The game with Lebanon was an absolute domination and it is never easy to approach such a competition. There were many doubts and perplexities, related to the setting and the fact of being absolute beginners, of having players in key roles that until now had not had such an important exposure. We responded with great personality and authority from the first possessions, directing the game where and how we wanted, managing it in absolute control for forty minutes. Putting to break the emotion and the pitfalls that could be in a debut game, however against a brave team like Lebanon”, he said about the Asian side.

Then, he spoke about the greatest feat of all before getting the win against Spain, eliminating France from the 2023 FIBA World Cup, and about (almost) making history against Canada. “In the second game, despite the different experience and talent, we were able to always compete. We gave everyone the feeling that we were ready to play it. France certainly played their best game of the tournament. They shot with percentages they never have, and yet we managed to beat them. Beyond being at a certain point in the game down by thirteen points, we never stopped following our game plan and our playing style. It also happened against Canada. Despite the effort accumulated in the forty minutes against France, we attacked the game immediately. We’ve gained ten points. A moment of bewilderment led us to the interval below one, but even when Canada had ten points ahead two minutes from the end we were only one possession away”, Banchi added.

Finding a common point among Latvian first three encounters, he pointed out his team’s way of playing. “We managed to impose our style and not violate our playing identity. In some ways we forced the opponents to chase us on a territory that then proved fatal to France and for long stretches of the game also to Canada, having players certainly of another caliber, more athletic and talented. In the end, they managed to find the direction to win it. I am especially pleased to have seen this team despite the injuries before the rally and during the preparation, has managed to bring here the Latvia style. What pleases me most is that in everyone’s opinion, our way of playing is recognizable and identifiable: this was one of the purposes I had when two and a half years ago I took charge of this project and program”, the 58-year-old proudly stated.

Taking time to comment on the French disappointment, Luca Banchi analyzed the elimination of Vincent Collet’s national team. “It’s difficult to judge, especially from the outside. I really liked France in preparation, one of the most convincing teams. The only one to choose the 12 starters from the first day and the only one to line up almost always the same team, if not for the injury suffered by Lessort, for the entire preparation”, he first said before pointing out their strenghts and the turning point of their tournament.

“I was impressed by the authoritativeness with which they had beaten Lithuania in the first and second matches they had played with them. Once here, that second half with Canada, after the first twenty minutes played at a high level, seemed to have undermined their certainties a little. They showed an unexpected fragility mentally, which proved to be decisive for us in playing a lot on their nerves. There was the expulsion of De Colo and some errors in the final, also attributed to the pressure that they felt they had to win at all costs a game that was proving more complicated than they imagined”, he added.

While some commented on their lack of motivation due to being host of next year’s Olympic Games, where they are already qualified, Luca Banchi believes this wasn’t the reason why they collapsed. “Not having the Olympic qualification on the line had a relatively big impact, because this is a team that has not hidden that they came here for a medal. Even from Batum’s statements there was a desire to aim for gold, that they had all the appropriate means”, the Latvian national team head coach said.

Moving on to the Thomas Huertel’s argument, Banchi said they had enough assets to lead the second unit when Nando De Colo wasn’t there. “In the end, we talk about Okobo and Francisco who are two players both from the EuroLeague and of undoubted talent and ability: I think they lacked nothing from that point of view. There was something missing in terms of personality when that bad second half with Canada undermined some certainty, in such a short tournament you can not afford it. You miss one game and you’re out. In a three-game group like this, as hard as ours, it was fatal. I would not go into details of a technical-tactical or motivational nature, because they always play for medals. The medal is for one, or for three teams. France, with this roster, is legitimate to try to play to get to their neck one more medal. This does not justify the modest performance they have had in this World Cup”, he added.


Talking to Eurohoops one year ago, he felt this team was ready to play in such a competition. “A year ago I had not yet gained the weight of the impact that the draw could have had on our experience at the World Cup. There was a moment of discouragement when we discovered that we were placed in this iron circle with two candidates for the medal. To aggravate the situation, there were injuries first of Lomasz, then of Strelnieks, and finally that of Porzingis. They seemed to predict another epilogue. Instead, keeping faith with our intentions, we managed to come here to play with the fierce determination of those who want to prove they are not here by chance, wanting to compete against every opponent and in every game”, Luca Banchi said.

“We are doing so, even in spite of the injury of Dairis Bertans and the energy that is going a little bit waning. We approached these first three races as was the logic of a team that had as its main goal to try to find one of the top 22 places. We are even in the Top 16, and we will play with Spain and Brazil, going beyond all predictions. A year ago, there was the perception that this group could be really competitive, and above all in the light of the results we had achieved in the windows, succeeding against Turkey and Great Britain to field the best possible formation, with most of our best players available, winning with 37 points of difference against Turkey that soon would have played EuroBasket”, he also commented.

However, he still has one small regret regarding what looked the his guys’ best moment of shape right before EuroBasket 2022, where the Baltic team wasn’t qualified. “That was perhaps our peak. We had all the players available and having been to that EuroBasket maybe would have revealed the potential of this team even before the World Cup, where we got to do a historic feat: with this group, beating France really means doing something historic. Giving Canada a hard time for 30 minutes, just as much. That little regret is there”, he said before doing the extraordinary against the Iberian side.

“It is also true that if Latvia had qualified for EuroBasket 2022, I probably would not have had this position, born on the wave of disappointments due to the two consecutive qualifications missed first at the World Cup and then at EuroBasket 2022. In the future, this World Cup leaves the feeling that by giving confidence to a new generation of players who are appearing for the first time with a leading role in the national team, you can continue to be competitive”, he admitted.

However, “enthusiasm” is the right words to state on Latvian future. “I hope that also in the future, between the Olympic Qualifying Tournament and EuroBasket 2025, this team can maintain its high performance: we will continue to be protagonists in the coming years, given the enthusiasm that this team is generating in the entire nation. Basketball is reaching peaks of popularity that it had never had before, especially on the wave of the results of this national team”, Luca Banchi added.

Before moving on to the next stage, they put Jordi Fernandez’s Canada in trouble, and the Italian head coach pointed out their biggest strenghts. “They impressed me for their physical structure, the incredible athletic impact that have especially in the backcourt. They are able to put anyone in trouble. So much versatility and talent. And above all, a common desire to get your hands dirty on defense. When they start to defend seriously, it’s difficult to play against them”, he commented on Canada.

Because of that, Latvia’s performance against the red-and-white side gets even more reliability. “This once again reinforces the quality of the game we played against them, because given the structure of our players, seeing them play with such authority and putting them to chase us, on a territory that could prove very difficult for us, we were able to play at a pace that was congenial, moving the ball and limiting the number of turnovers, going to find those small gaps that had annihilated France first and Lebanon then”, the 58-year-old added.

“Maybe it was the first time they were in trouble. I don’t know where they can go, because if I compare them to Spain and the United States, they don’t have such a deep roster. Spain has twelve players all able to guarantee Scariolo a quality of play over forty minutes, that no other team has. I am thinking of Australia, Germany, the United States, Serbia, I hope Italy itself. If they can protect these eight players from injury and foul problems, they can beat anyone”, he also said.

After beating Spain, Latvia now needs another victorious showing against the Brazilian national team. Luca Banchi has two names in mind who need to be watched closely by his defense. “Yago dos Santos is definitely one of the most amazing players out there, for the season he has had, for the technical impact and leadership he is showing here. I’m waiting to play against him to make me even better aware of what is its ability to impact the game and the team. He seems to be able to combine technical characteristics with a strong personality”, he said.

“A player to follow with interest. I think Crvena Zvezda has intelligently recruited him to unleash still a little’ the furrow of players like Campazzo, that can prove decisive in a competition like the EuroLeague. Now the games will become even more interesting, challenges full of great difficulty. Let’s see what ability he will have to approach them. Definitely a player that everyone follows with interest and with extreme curiosity”, he added about the upcoming EuroLeague rookie.

The other must-watch Brazilian player in the 2023 FIBA World Cup has surely been Bruno Caboclo, who led his team with a double-double of 19 points and 13 rebounds in the win against Canada. “As you can imagine, he0s a player who has all the physical-athletic characteristics. I do not know him so deeply to judge him. But I had the opportunity to work together with Bruno Savignani, the current assistant coach of Brazil, when I was coaching in Pesaro. He was already talking about this guy at the time, praising him and saying that he was looking forward to a brilliant future. So it was”, he commented on the 27-year-old.

“His season in Ulm gave him the opportunities he deserved, I think Venice made a great hit. As he has shown, he is a player destined for even more important stages than the EuroCup; the fact that Venice has managed to take him home means that they have been faster and far-sighted than others. I hope he will prove to be a very high profile player, because the Italian league may have found another potential protagonist. It would not surprise me that from here he will soon jump in the highest European level”, he said about the former Toronto Raptors player.

Before the game against Spain, he praised Sergio Scariolo’s organization, saying they were looking to face such an important national team. “Playing against Spain is a source of great pride. I would have struggled to speculate once I saw the group that we would have the chance and the ability to beat France, engage Canada and now challenge Spain. I keep the emotions and vibes of challenging the reigning world champions, the champions of Europe, the most titled coach of the last decade. In addition to being a valued colleague, he is also a friend. It is a way of testing me, a reward for those who are the sacrifices and sacrifices that are made by doing this work. There are great responsibilities, but having led Latvia in just two years to compete against the best is something I’m really proud of”, he said before making the unthinkable.

The most important thing, however, is what this group has managed to do changing the basketball narrative in the country. “Basketball has reached unprecedented peaks. The 11.000 tickets in the Riga Arena are now always sold out. We are the nation best represented in this World Cup by our audience, we have almost 3.000 spectators who have travelled from Latvia to Indonesia. Our games are extraordinary for the atmosphere that our fans have managed to create”. Without Luca Banchi, nothing of this would have never been possible. He made history before, he made it now. Possibly, he will make it once more.


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