NEW YORK (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers) - Latvia superstar Kristaps Porzingis is planning on wearing the national team jersey next summer and help his team in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers.
Porzingis, who led Latvia into the Quarter-Finals of FIBA EuroBasket 2017, spoke to FIBA.basketball.
Is your aim to play for Latvia in the World Cup Qualifiers during the June/July and September 2018 windows?
Yes, I'd love to. I had a great time last summer and I want to repeat the experience. I'm looking forward to playing with my teammates again and trying to help Latvia qualify for the World Cup. That's a goal for us and for Latvian basketball, and we all want to give our best to qualify and travel to China to compete on the world stage.
In the World Cup Qualifiers, Latvia lost a tough game in Bursa to Turkey 85-73 but bounced back with a gritty 82-73 home win over Sweden. Were you able to watch?
Yes I was able to follow their first two games and watch the guys play. They did a good job despite losing one game. I'm confident for the rest of the First Round. I liked seeing that some players who didn't get that much playing time at the EuroBasket stepped up in those games and helped the team play very well. The group of players of the national team is very interesting and despite the absence of the NBA guys and some EuroLeague guys, Latvia can play at a great level. Knowing that the national team has so many players and options is great; it's a positive sign for when we're all together wearing the national team jersey in the next competitions.
We have plenty of guys competing in the world's best leagues, guys being drafted frequently now and our young guys are growing very fast, so everything's going great for us. We just need to keep working as a united team and build a very competitive one, because we have all the ingredients. Great days are ahead for Latvian basketball. I'm happy to know that we're all working together to make things great in order to be a top team.
I learned a lot about being the leader of a team, how to lead on and off the court. That helped me a lot to get ready for my season with the (New York) Knicks because I knew I'd have a bigger role as a leader starting this year. It was also good to play at the EuroBasket because the opponents played very physically against me and I stepped up my game. I improved by playing at FIBA level after my years at youth level. It helped me a lot and it was a great preparation for this season. I'm looking forward to the coming summers and competitions with the national team.
It was good to live another experience in another environment from my daily life as a Knicks player - playing with my teammates, representing my country, being in Europe to compete against the best teams on the continent, and playing another style of basketball than the one I am used to in the NBA. It was a great experience. We were disappointed because we didn't get a medal but we learned a lot and that's for sure going to help us in future competitions.
Latvia weren't that far from a medal, though. You lost a close Quarter-Final to Slovenia.
Our goal was clear and it was to win a medal. We had high expectations, we didn't reach them but it doesn't mean that we had a bad tournament. We learned a lot and gained experience and confidence for the future. It was important as we are still building a very competitive team and we want to bring Latvia to the level of the best national teams in the world.
We have great generations, a great mix of young guys and very competitive veterans, so our future is bright. Each and every player plays with the same energy and motivation to put Latvia in a great place on the world's basketball map and we have all the ingredients to achieve it in the next couple of years. In the future, we'll have opportunities to win medals and fight for titles.
It's one of our strengths, that's for sure. It was our first time all together in an international competition, so having that strong unity and chemistry was very nice and positive. We play very unselfishly and we all push and play for the team. We love to play with each other and help the team and the group grow. It's very important to have a great atmosphere and to be united, but also to love playing with each other.