FIBA World Cup

Surprising Latvia ready to bring World Cup havoc in Manila

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Surprising Latvia ready to bring World Cup havoc in Manila

THRILLED. Latvia celebrates a historic run in the FIBA World Cup.


Latvia – boasting a string of upsets, including a takedown of defending champion Spain – looks to make more history as the World Cup debutant kicks off its quarterfinal bid in Manila after a stellar group-phase run in Jakarta

MANILA, Philippines – Latvia was never supposed to be in Manila for the final phase of the FIBA World Cup.

As tournament debutants, the Latvians supposedly had little chance after getting bunched in the “group of death” with World Cup mainstay France, defending champions Spain, and Brazil.

The Northeast European squad also lost several players to injuries, including 7-foot- 3 Kristaps Porzingis of the Boston Celtics.

Yet, somehow,  everything played out perfectly in their favor. It was as if basketball gods were smiling over them for the past weeks. 

But perhaps, it was Latvia head coach Luca Banchi who flashed the biggest smile of all.

“We’ve entered Latvian basketball history,” said Banchi after Latvia’s upset of world No. 1 Spain, 74-69, in the group phase last week.

An Italian native, Banchi attributed his team’s success not from luck or divine intervention, but from everyone’s connectedness. 

“The job of a coach is to make the team and the players autonomous,” Banchi said. “They are the people in charge to take decisions on a court. I don’t have any remote control from the bench.”

“We’re extremely connected with basketball,” he added.

‘Job is done’

Banchi has been instrumental in engineering a Latvian offense that predicated on constant ball movement, player movement, and shooting opportunities. 

More than his system, his wards played their roles perfectly, maximizing each other’s strengths in a tournament bannered by star players and go-to guys. 

Latvia has five players averaging in double digits – Andrejs Grazulis (13.4 points per game), Rolands Smits (13.4), Davis Bertans (12.4), Arturs Zagars (12.2), and Kristers Zoriks (10.4). 

The count would have been six if not for Dairis Bertans’ hamstring injury that forced him to play just two games where he averaged 14 points. 

“My job is done. Look at them, they don’t need a coach anymore,” Banchi recalled telling his staff in a practice session. “That’s true. And I believe this group doesn’t need a coach anymore.”

“They’re solid, conscious, and accurate,” Banchi continued. “We can adapt. They know what I’m asking… They know what styles that work.”

Ticket to Manila

Latvia’s brilliance transcends through the stands with their loud fans, their faces painted in Latvia colors, and their energy in Jakarta contagious that even Banchi had no choice but to acknowledge them. 

The 58-year-old head coach even brought a fan’s placard – designed to look like a plane ticket to Manila – on court for a photo-op after the Latvians booked a last eight spot.

“In the end, this guy was still showing my ticket, and I said ‘why not?’” Banchi told the media after their quarterfinal-clinching rout of Brazil, 104-84.

“It would be nice to jump to these airplanes,” said Banchi a night before their flight to Manila. “It was in our dreams.”

Latvia now faces Germany – a team that is not short of star power with NBA players Dennis Schroder, Franz Wagner, Mo Wagner, and Daniel Theis – in a knockout quarterfinal match at 4:40 pm on Wednesday, September 6, at the Mall of Asia Arena. 

The Germans were unbeaten in the group phase, posing a great challenge to a Latvian squad raring to shatter more expectations in Manila. – Rob Andrew L. Dongiapon/ 

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