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22 November, 2021
28 February, 2023
Kurucs relishing reunion with Latvia national team as World Cup quest begins
23/11/2021
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Kurucs relishing reunion with Latvia national team as World Cup quest begins

BELGRADE (Serbia) - Rodions Kurucs cannot wait to be back in the national team jersey of Latvia as they begin their quest to qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023.

The 23-year-old forward last suited up for the senior team three and a half years ago in 2018; playing a handful of minutes in a home defeat against Ukraine in the previous qualifying campaign for the World Cup.

"It's definitely going to be amazing to put the Latvian jersey on again," beamed Kurucs. "I've kind of forgot that feeling. But it is always great representing your country - being part of something big. That’s the biggest goal for an athlete.

"I always had that dream with my brother [Arturs]. We dreamed of being on the national team together and playing at the same club. We grew up watching so many great players with our grandfather and we would always go to as many games as possible in Riga."

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Latvia came up agonizingly short in their mission to make it to the 2019 edition of the World Cup as they were edged out by Montenegro in the Second Round of Qualifiers. They closed their campaign with an 80-74 victory on the road in Podgorica, though it was not enough to advance having lost by nine points in the previous encounter.

This time around will not be straightforward either with Latvia pitted against Serbia, Belgium and Slovakia in Group A with potential clashes with Greece and Turkey on the horizon should things pan out as expected.

"I ALWAYS BELIEVE IT IS POSSIBLE. I'M A WINNER. I'M A COMPETITOR. I WANT TO WIN ALL THE GAMES POSSIBLE."

 

And, Kurucs remains confident in the face of the upcoming challenges as Latvia begin their next quest.

"It would definitely mean a lot [to qualify for the World Cup]. It's what we want to do and to shock the world. We have a great national team with everyone available and I'm looking forward to these Qualifiers. This is a big opportunity for us as a small country. 

"I always believe it is possible. I'm a winner. I'm a competitor. I want to win all the games possible. It is in our hands as to what we will do on the court."

Kurucs is back in Europe and will be in familiar surroundings when Latvia open their campaign in Belgrade against Serbia on Thursday with the forward now plying his trade at KK Partizan - averaging 6.2 points in 14.8 minutes per game in domestic league action.

That sets up the prospect of a reunion with club teammates including Aleksa Avramovic as Kurucs looks to secure the bragging rights following the international window. As good an opening statement you could ask for, especially for Italian play-caller Luca Banchi - who oversaw Latvia's 4-0 record in the Second Round of Pre-Qualifiers in August.

"We have a really good roster - I'm actually really excited," stated Kurucs. "We have a lot of good guards, our forwards are good and centers are great also. I think we are one of the favorites, for sure and I think we can make some noise."


Kurucs has already touched base with the recently installed Latvia head coach, Luca Banchi. The Italian tactician is only the third foreign coach at the helm of the Latvian national team after Nenad Trajkovic and Kestutis Kemzura.

"We've been talking a lot, We met in pre-season and he told me he wants to see me in the national team and we talked about the role of how he wants to use me. Now, we will be able to discuss strategies more and get to work," Kurucs said.

"It's definitely a change for us - we've mostly had Latvian coaches, but this can be a good change. He's doing a great job so far, creating a family system where everyone feels at home and welcome with the national team. So, I'm really happy with what he's doing."

Kurucs enjoyed life in the fast lane in the NBA, impressing in a rookie year with Brooklyn Nets to earn recognition at the All-Star Weekend, but is now settling back into the adjustment of returning to European basketball - and helping Latvia secure a place at the World Cup is the desired next step of the journey.

FIBA