By Cesare Milanti / email@example.com
MANILA, Philippines – Qualifying for the first-ever FIBA World Cup in the country’s history already seemed like an extraordinary result, but ending it on the 5th place after beating historic basketball names like Italy, Lithuania, Spain, and France makes it even more special.
But there’s nothing made up in this story because Latvia has really done it, capturing attention from back home, including many hearts of the younger generations.
After Luca Banchi’s speech in the post-game press conference following the win against Italy, where the Italian head coach said schools were letting kids watch the national team, two protagonists of this campaign spoke in the post-game press conference about what it means for them.
“We’ve really been working hard to be in that position”, Davis Bertans first said to Eurohoops about becoming role models for their people back home in the Baltic area. “Since starting with my brother and Strelnieks when they were the younger point guards and the new generation coming in, the rest of us joining them eventually, we changed the culture with a very professional attitude. Starting with that, not making any trouble and just working as hard as we can. Eventually, you get into a position that always pays off”, he then added.
The turning point, of course, arrived when the 58-year-old head coach sat on that bench. “Coach Banchi came in, giving us a little bit of extra push to change the mentality that we can play in big tournaments, and big games, and win them. He has always forced us to give more but came in easy: playing as a team, sharing the ball, and supporting each other on and off the court. Once you become a team, it’s only about team success, one player is gonna be there to help the other. Any time of the day, that’s when you make a great team”, the newest Oklahoma City Thunder player said about their leader.
With this outcome captured first in Jakarta and then in Manila, the dawn of a new basketball area for Latvia has definitely turned from a possibility into a reality, with the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris and EuroBasket 2025 being host at home being two crucial goals, bringing even more passionate for the love of the game. “Hopefully, that inspires the kids back home. There are a lot bunch of videos back home where instead of studying the kids were watching our games. Probably a better lesson than the one they could learn in school. It’s an unbelievable feeling”, Davis Bertans finally said.
While Davis has been on the court from the beginning to the end of this magical Latvian run, averaging 12.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game, shooting 38.1% from beyond the arc with 7.9 attempts per outcome, his brother Dairis had to miss Latvia’s path to the knockout stage.
Despite suffering a partial tear of his left hamstring during the amazing victory against France, which forced him to miss the remainder of the 2023 FIBA World Cup, the 34-year-old was still there for his teammates, supporting from the sideline against Canada, Spain, Brazil, Germany, Italy, and finally Lithuania.
“I’m super proud of the guys. For me, it was a little bit tough knowing that I won’t be able to help the team and play. Since then, every guy stepped up and every guy gave a little bit more than what we expected at the beginning”, he said to Eurohoops after winning the Baltic derby for the 5th position.
Being one of the key elements in Luca Banchi’s decision to appoint as the Latvian national team’s head coach, Dairis Bertans praised the Italian coach. “Luca basically brought out the best from everybody, he knows exactly how to give everybody confidence, he knows how everybody can play, and the guys are really performing for him”, the shooting guard added.
Finally, he also shared his comment after being so potentially crucial in the younger Latvian generation’s growth. “We are super proud that people look up to us like this, becoming role models for the kids. This puts a little pressure on us to keep going and playing the same way. As the coach said before, it doesn’t really matter if you win or lose, but the way we approach games and we perform, the way we give everything for our country, that’s what makes us role models”, Dairis Bertans stated.
PHOTO CREDIT: 2023 FIBA World Cup
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