Qualified Team Focus - Latvia: Porzingis and co. ready to storm the World Cup for first time
MIES (Switzerland) - The draw for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023, presented by Wanda, will be held in Manila, Philippines, on April 29. It is now time to meet the 32 teams that try to become World Champions in a few months.
Here is the number 29 team in the FIBA World Ranking Men, presented by Nike, World Cup debutants Latvia.
How did they qualify
Latvia entered the World Cup qualification campaign on a real low. Not only did they miss out on the FIBA World Cup 2019 on points differential behind Montenegro, but Latvia also failed to qualify for FIBA EuroBasket 2022, their first absence in the continental highlight since 1999.
And that came after Latvia finished fifth at the EuroBasket 2017. But new coach Luca Banchi guided Latvia through the World Cup 2023 Pre-European Qualifiers and then helped the country book their first ticket to the global stage with one window to spare - in an action-packed road to history.
Latvia went 4-0 in the World Cup European Pre-Qualifiers Second Round, beating Belarus and Romania each twice and then landing in Group A of the main Qualifiers. The first game was in Belgrade against Serbia and was a real thriller with 14 lead changes and Rihards Lomazs pouring in 33 points in a 101-100 loss. That would end up being the only loss for Latvia in the first five windows.
Lomazs stepped up again in the other November 2021 game with 28 points in an 82-74 home win over Slovakia. The February 2022 window laid the foundation for Latvia's qualification as they beat Belgium twice in a span of four days. Banchi's men nearly gave up an 18-point lead but held on 66-65 on the road and then grabbed a 68-63 home win.
In the June/July 2022 window, the strong Latvian defense stood strong again in the second game against Serbia, allowing just 7 points in the third quarter of a 66-59 home win - in front of 10,000 fans. And Latvia finished the window with a 33-point road blowout of Slovakia.
Latvia welcomed NBA star Kristaps Porzingis back to the team for the August 2022 window, and another massive crowd of 11,315 came out for the home game against Turkey and were not disappointed: Porzingis collected 22 points, 14 rebounds and 6 blocks in a 111-85 win.
Porzingis was just as good in Latvia's 87-80 win in Great Britain with 29 points and 14 rebounds.
Latvia did not let up at all in the November 2022 window, never trailing in registering an 80-60 blowout of Greece on the road to make history and punch their World Cup ticket.
The second game of the window was big party in Riga with 11,057 fans celebrating with a 79-63 win over Great Britain.
Over the course of the Qualifiers, Banchi was able to rely on a strong core with Rihards Lomazs, Dairis Bertans, Andrejs Grazulis and Klavs Cavars playing all of the first 10 games and Mareks Mejeris playing in eight games.
Banchi also could regularly rely on at least one player getting hot from deep as eight times did a player make at least 4 three-pointers in a game - including Lomazs twice hitting 6 three-pointers.
Best result at the World Cup
While the Latvian women's national team has played twice on the global stage - the 2008 Olympics and FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2018 - the Latvian men's team will finally make their World Cup debut - after just missing out for China 2019.
Latvia just missed the World Cup in 2019
Last World Cup appearances
Latvia's senior national team will be making just their second appearance on the global stage. They played at the 1936 Olympics and had a 1-2 record before being part of the Soviet Union.
Players to watch
The country's biggest star will be Kristaps Porzingis, who has said he cannot wait for the World Cup. How well the NBA veteran plays will go a long way in deciding how far Latvia go in Indonesia, Japan and Philippines.
But Banchi did lead his team to an 11-1 record in the Pre-Qualifiers and Qualifiers without Porzingis. And Latvia have some strong weapons.
Janis Strelnieks (13) and Davis Bertans (8)
The brothers Dairis and Davis Bertans are both dangerous at any and all times plus there is Rolands Smits, Janis Timma, and Rodions Kurucs.
Late July, the preliminary roster was cut down from 24 players to 16 players as the team prepares for an extensive preparation games schedule.