Following the path of Porzingis, home comforts now calling for Zagars
RIGA (FIBA U18 European Championship 2018) - As the new Competition System brings senior national teams home to the fans, Arturs Zagars will have his own home cooking experience with Latvia hosting the FIBA U18 European Championship 2018. It is something the star point guard can not wait for.
"It's amazing," Zagars said of the tournament, which will run from July 28-August 5. "I mean, playing a European Championship in front of a home crowd. It will be an unbelievable experience."
The 6ft 3in (1.90m) playmaker expects to play a major role in Latvia's game.
"I will be one of the team leaders and my job will be to make other players better and help keep our team's chemistry and motivation level constantly high," Zagars said.
Zagars in action for Latvia at U16 level
Along with Zagars is a strong group of players such as Arturs Kurucs, Rainers Hermanovskis, Oskars Hlebovickis and Valters Veveris.
"We have really good guards and wings and a long bench as well," the Riga native said. "We all can shoot from outside, but I'm going to save our strengths for people to see."
The tournament in Riga will also be a qualifier for the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019 - with the top five finishing teams booking spots in the global spectacle.
"I think with our lineup we are a top-five team and we can fight for the title, but it won't be easy because there are a lot of talented teams," Zagars said.
"IT IS JUST AN EXTRA MOTIVATION TO WORK HARD AND PREPARE WELL THIS SUMMER. IT DEFINITELY WOULD BE AN HONOR TO GET LATVIA BACK TO THE (U19) WORLD CUP."
Latvia have only played at two U19 World Cups - in 1999 and 2011.
"It is just an extra motivation to work hard and prepare well this summer. It definitely would be an honor to get Latvia back to the World Cup," said Zagars, who will be playing his third competition for Latvia following the FIBA U16 European Championship in 2015 and 2016.
The 2011 U19 World Cup was hosted by Latvia. Even though it took place in his home town, Zagars does not really have any memories of the tournament.
"I watched some of the games but I really wasn't interested in youth national team games at that point of my life," Zagars admitted.Zagars has really stepped up his game this season at Spanish club Joventut Badalona. In his first season away from his homeland he had to get used to a different language, culture and playing style and system.
Leaving Latvia at youth level, in order to gain bigger experiences in Spain has become a well-travelled path in recent years. Zagars has followed in the footsteps of national teammate Arturs Kurucs, Arturs’ older brother Rodions; senior team players Rolands Smits, Anzejs Pasecniks and of course, the biggest name of them all, Kristaps Porzingis.
After an initial adjustment phase, Zagars gained international attention for his performances at a major European youth club competition and even made his ACB debut at 17 years of age. He also impressed at the NBA Global Camp in Treviso.
"We could talk all day about how much I learned this year. But this season gave me a lot. Most importantly I started to understand basketball from a different standpoint and it allowed me to jump to another level," said Zagars, who played in two ACB games and collected eight points, three rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes.All this being said, Zagars and the Latvians are fortunate to even be playing in the U18 Division A. The Baltic side actually finished 16th at the competition in 2017 and normally would have been relegated. But since Latvia had agreed to host the 2018 edition of the U18 European Championship before the 2017 tournament, they were not forced to go to Division B.
"There is nothing much to say. We finished last last year and we were lucky because this year's tournament was going to be in Latvia. But now we are here to prove to everybody that we belong in Division A and we are going to use all the negatives as a motivation and it will only help us to play better," he said.
And have an amazing experience with the home fans.