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Bagatskis all smiles after Latvia enter Olympic Qualifying Tournament field
RIGA (2016 Rio Olympics) - Latvia's basketball players and coaches didn't know it at the time, but knocking off Slovenia in the Round of 16 at EuroBasket 2015 last September would end up punching the national team's ticket to a FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT).
When the Executive Committee of FIBA announced this week that both Serbia and Italy, who finished fourth and sixth, respectively, at the EuroBasket, would host OQTs, as well as FIBA Asia Championship runners-up the Philippines, Latvia were added to the 18-team OQT field.
Latvia, Croatia and Turkey came in eighth, ninth and 10th, respectively, at the EuroBasket and were the three sides to receive invitations this week. Yes indeed, the Latvians are still in the hunt for Rio.
Latvia (LAT) celebrate win over Slovenia at EuroBasket 2015
Latvia coach Ainars Bagatskis, who spent more than a decade as a player for the national team and has been its coach at the last three EuroBaskets, is thrilled. His players now have a competitive summer of basketball in front of them.
Congratulations to all Latvian basketball friends, whose support helped us to enter the European Championship quarter-finals, taking a decisive step towards the Olympic qualification tournament. Now we are thinking and working to aspire to the next target. We are eager to go to the Rio Games. - Bagatskis
The Latvians had a very good EuroBasket 2015. They hosted Group D and finished second to Lithuania, ensuring their progression to the Round of 16.
Their 73-66 victory over Slovenia proved to be crucial. Janis Strelnieks put on a dazzling display, pouring in 17 points, dishing out eight assists and corralling six rebounds.
Now Latvian fans will have a keen interest in what happens on 26 January at The House of Basketball, FIBA's headquarters, in Mies, Switzerland. That is when the draws for the three OQTs and the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which is to be held in France 13-19 June, will take place.
"The group draw will be important, and, within a week, we will know the opponents and be able to talk more specifically about our prospects," Bagatskis said. "But whatever opponents we get, of the utmost importance, of course, will be our own readiness - the composition and quality of the preparatory work."