Latvian ace Vitola embracing pressure cooker of Istanbul

28 Kristine Vitola (TUR)
28 Kristine Vitola (TUR) - Galatasaray v Dynamo Novosibirsk, 2017 EuroCup Women, Istanbul - Abdi Ipekçi Spor Salonu(Turkey), Regular Season, 14 December 2016

ISTANBUL (EuroCup Women/FIBA EuroBasket Women 2017) - Latvian center Kristine Vitola is eyeing up success in EuroCup Women with Galatasaray as she gets used to operating under the microscope at one of Istanbul’s juggernauts.

After making the switch from Perfumerias Avenida last summer, the 25-year-old is making her mark at Galatasaray and adjusting to life at one of Europe's biggest clubs along with new head coach, Marina Maljkovic.

"Like at any other club when you play for them, everyone involved expects that you bring your best game every night out and I think the pressure is always more on the local players - because they understand the language," mused Vitola.

"Most importantly, the fans are always there supporting us, which is great. Even at away games, they make us feel like we are at home. I enjoy playing in front of our crowd and getting that extra boost of energy from them whenever it is needed.

"Meanwhile Coach Marina gives you knowledge every day to become a better player and for the team to succeed. As a player, it is important that you try to understand her message and trust in the process. She is always there in practice 100% and expects the same from her players.

"She is looking for constant improvement and knows you can always do better. You can't stand still and be at the same spot now as you were at the beginning of the season."

While the additional pressure of playing for a juggernaut might inspire some players even more to perform, Vitola insists that it is her passion for the game that continues to drive her forward. Something which is essential as Galatasaray prepare for Tuesday’s EuroCup Women Quarter-Finals first leg at Good Angels Kosice.

She said: "I don't need extra motivation to do what I love. Sure, we all have our days when getting out of the bed in the morning is just a little bit harder, but once I step onto the court and feel the ball, it all goes away.

"Basketball is my safe place where for that little amount of practice or game time, I can just forget about everything. When I'm on the court, I like to get in the zone. I'm a demanding person: I demand the best from myself and expect the same from others. Because of this, I can get 'heated' in the moment, but for me it's just the momentum. Having said that, I don't take basketball stuff outside the court, I leave it there - what was said, was said and what was done, was done."

"For me, it is important to separate basketball from my personal life. Yes, I analyze things that happened on the court, but I have to feel when is the right time for me to do so," Vitola continued. "I have my group of people that I love dearly and that make my life so much more interesting. However, I also like to be by myself. Next to the sea, with a good book, good food and since I don't drink coffee, usually with a smoothie – it's my perfect way to recharge the battery."

Not that there is much time for Vitola to consider how she can switch off, since as well as chasing titles with Galatasaray in the KBSL and EuroCup Women, she is also penciled in to appear at FIBA EuroBasket Women in June.

It was far from a straightforward process for Latvia in terms of punching their ticket, but now the Riga-native is looking forward to competing against Belgium, Montenegro and Russia.

She revealed: "Because of the new [qualification] system, the games were definitely more interesting. It was also perhaps a little more chaotic [as players] because you only had so much time to adapt and get that feeling with each other again. The important thing is that we made it - that was our goal.

"In terms of our Group in the Final Round, you really just have to be thankful for whatever is given to you. Yes, we have some very good teams in our group, but so does everyone else. We will have enough time to prepare and make the best out of it with hard work," concluded Vitola."

Galatasaray play Good Angels Kosice on Tuesday night, with the second leg in Istanbul scheduled for Friday, March 10.