16 - 24
July 2016
7 Rihards LOMAZS (Latvia)
to read

U20 Latvia coach challenges candidates to surprise him

RIGA (FIBA U20 European Championship 2016) – Even while competing at the 2015 FIBA U20 European Championship in Italy, the Latvian national team had one eye on the 2016 edition. However, the 20-strong preliminary squad for the July tournament in Helsinki that head coach Arnis Vecvagars announced recently looks somewhat different to what he had in mind a year previously.

U20 Latvia preliminary squad
Renars Birkans Rihards Berzins Klavs Cavars Davis Cima
Rendijs Feikners Uldis Feldmanis Arturs Grinbergs Davis Gutmanis
Eduards Hazners Verners Kohs Arnolds Krauklis Dzeiks Krumins
Rihards Lomazs Ervins Meznieks Marts Ozolinkevics Zigmars Raimo
Marcis Saulitis Karlis Silins Rudolfs Stradnieks Viksne Verners

Latvia had an excellent tournament in Lignano Sabbiadoro in 2015, including an important win over neighbours Lithuania in the Baltic derby to enter the top-six and then a victory over Czech Republic in the game for fifth place. Even though there were influential players such as 1995-born versatile forward Rolands Smits who were playing their last tournament at youth level, coach Vecvagars could look around and be satisfied knowing that he already had in place the core of his 2016 side. 

Guard Rihards Lomazs and forwards Ervins Meznieks, Rinalds Malmanis and Rudolfs Stradnieks all played big minutes for Latvia in Italy, made significant contributions throughout the tournament and, crucially, were all born in 1996 and are eligible to play again this summer.

“The potential core of team has been drawn but it's not carved in stone, a player who is willing to work hard this summer could find a place" - Arnis Vecvagars

A lot can change in a year though and Vecvagars will be unable to count on Malmanis, who recently underwent surgery, while Meznieks is currently in the US for studies and the coach is doubtful he will return in time, although he has included him on the preliminary team. The Latvian coach regards these unforeseen developments as an opportunity, since certain players who were not part of the preliminary list last summer are now given the chance to convince him they deserve a spot on the final 12-man roster.

"Both players [Malmanis and Meznieks] are definitely important on the U20 team, but as us coaches usually say, other players will be able to step up and change things around," Vecgavars stated. "This season for example we saw how Klavs Cavars played in the Aldaris LBL league, while we have on board a number of 1997-born players like Zigmars Raimo, Karlis Silins and Marcis Saulitis."

The unlucky Rinalds Malmanis is recovering from injury and will not play for Latvia this summer

The experienced Lomazs as well as some of the stars of the U18 Latvian side of 2015 such as Verners Kohs could end up shouldering the biggest load on the U20 team this summer, but Vecgavars insists that all players on the 20-man list will be in the reckoning for the trip to Helsinki. "The potential core of team has been drawn but it's not carved in stone, a player who is willing to work hard this summer could find a place," the Latvian coach said.

The first stage of the Latvian U20 side's training camp will take place from 13 through 23 June and their first warm-up games will be at the end of that month against neighbours Estonia and Lithuania, while they will face Georgia in back-to-back friendlies at the start of July. Latvia were drawn in Group C of the FIBA U20 European Championship, together with Serbia, Slovenia and Ukraine.