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33 Kitija Laksa (LAT)
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Time to go In-depth with Latvia and NCAA rising star Kitija Laksa

RIGA (FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2018) – She’s one of the most exciting global rising stars and you can bank on Kitija Laksa of Latvia making a splash at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2018.

Having only recently turned 22-years-old but with three major tournaments already on her resume, the wing sensation is a player on an unstoppable upward curve. FIBA.basketball caught up with the wing ace to find out more about her rapidly burgeoning career.

How would you describe the culture around the sport and women’s basketball in your home country of Latvia?
Basketball as a sport in our country has grown immensely during the past couple of years thanks to the success both our teams and players have enjoyed. Latvians are playing at a higher level and trying to reach new peaks every year.

Players are developing their game in Europe and in the States, so I think basketball and especially on the women’s side of it, is still growing - not only nationally, but internationally as well. Latvia isn’t an exception and I believe it is all about progress. As a small country, we are trying to find ways to do this in the best way and at the best pace we can.

Latvia will co-host the FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2019 and so how much of a celebration do you think it will be and can the team handle the pressure and expectation?
Right now, in the summer of 2018, we are only focusing on playing our best at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup. That is our main and only focus. Of course, when looking to the future, everyone is very excited about Latvia hosting another major event. But before tackling ‘the party planning’ for 2019, we have business to take care of in Tenerife.

What do you remember of last time EuroBasket Women was in your country during 2009?
I remember Latvia hosting this tournament very well. I was 13 years old and went to a couple of games in Riga. Mostly I remember watching every game on television and dreaming about playing for the national team one day.

It was an exciting couple of years for Team Latvia, since we had went to the Olympic Games for the first time in our history during 2008, so hosting a major competition in our country the year after, was a huge basketball celebration. For me, it was more than a celebration - just the fact that the best basketball players coming to my country to play was awesome. As a kid, I grew up following our national team and having the opportunity to play with some of our best players only a few years later, is something I will never take for granted.

Even though you’re only just 22-years-old, it is astonishing you are a becoming a major tournament veteran having already played at three EuroBasket Women tournaments. What are the highs and lows so far?
I wouldn’t call myself a veteran yet because there’s a lot of room for progress and growth, but it has been a positive experience for me every time. I have learned so much from every coach and player I’ve had the opportunity to work with during these years with the national team. I believe as a team, we are still developing and our best basketball is still ahead of us. I am thankful for the opportunities I’ve had thus far.

Coaches have believed in me and my job is to work hard and bring my best game day in and day out and do whatever it takes to help the team. My role might have changed in every tournament, but that is the mindset I have had going into every practice because representing my country, is a privilege to me. I’m honored to get invited to be a part of the team.

After booking your ticket in thrilling and dramatic style last year, what are your feelings ahead of the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2018?
It’s our main focus and we are excited to start the training camp and preparation for it. Personally, I can’t wait to go back to work and battle side by side with these girls. Having Senegal, China and USA in our group is a great challenge, as well as an opportunity since each representative is from a different continent. Playing every team in our preparation schedule will get us ready for the main event and I believe in our coaching staff to get the team ready for any opponent we’ll meet.

We’ve always had a game plan to stop or surprise the opponent so I’m just excited to be a part of this journey with our head coach Martins Zibarts and his crew. I have already heard about fans coming to Tenerife and I am thrilled that we’ll have people in red-white-red in the stands. Our fans help us, drive us and make a huge difference as our ‘sixth player’. I’m looking forward to singing our national anthem in an Arena filled with Latvians, which gives the team a great boost.

This must be an incredible and exciting time to be part of national team program, with Latvia playing in the U19 Worlds last year, the U17 Worlds this year and the senior Worlds in Spain?
Basketball has grown in Latvia in many ways. The popularity of the sport has increased because the culture and availability of it have been cultivated. We have great youth coaches in women’s basketball that have invested in our younger generations and having the opportunity to represent Latvia in the highest competitions in the world is a result of it. More and more girls decide to continue playing basketball after high school either in Europe, but even more so in the NCAA. I think the future of our basketball programs is bright and everything will depend on us, the players, the coaches, the system and all other related people.

What’s the secret to your shooting efficiency and success in the NCAA at the University of South Florida?
I like my secrets to secretly stay as secrets! USF is a great program lead by great people. My personal success is thanks to the people I surround myself with. My family has been through it all with me and is my biggest support.

Nevertheless, my coaches, teammates, team staff, trainers, sports psychologist and every single person that has believed in me and invested in me has only helped my growth. After the summer, I will be heading into my senior year and I am dedicated to work for every board on the court with my teammates to make it the best season the program has seen.

USF has several European players on the roster. What is the significance for you and the team of this dynamic and how excited are you about Luize Septe also joining you soon?
Coach Jose Fernandez is known for bringing in the best talent he can find from all around the world. For me, on the basketball court, it doesn’t matter where the player is from because the language of basketball is the same and we all work towards the same goal.

Moreover, our locker room is never quiet and it is fun to learn about other cultures. I believe we have a good balance of everything on our team and it is a pleasure to be a part of USF’s basketball program. I am excited to welcome all our newcomers to our team because once they start their college student-athlete journeys they will learn a lot not only in school and about basketball but also about themselves.