By Paul Nilsen
|Elina Babkina was a cornerstone in Latvia's successful qualification campaign|
Latvian playmaker Elina Babkina can't believe her luck ahead of EuroBasket Women 2011 after reaping the rewards of working with head coach George Dikeoulakos at club level.
Babkina is currently enjoying the best season of her career at Lotos Gdynia under the watchful eye of Dikeoulakos and having never stepped out at a EuroBasket Women Final Round despite having played at the Olympics, she is expected to make her long overdue tournament debut in the summer.
The 21 year old is likely to arrive in Poland full of confidence having averaged really impressive numbers this season although it wasn't all plain sailing for the guard and her team-mates after some early season coaching changes which eventually resulted in the arrival of the Greek play-caller.
EuroLeague Women in particular proved to be a tough assignment during the early stages of the campaign but success eventually arrived for Babkina earlier this month in the form of a triumphant Polish Cup Final win.
"We were a new team with many young players with a lack of experience in how to win games."
"Also the fact that we changed three coaches and every time we had to adjust to a new philosophy wasn't an advantage for us."
"But, from the moment coach Dikeoulakos came to the team, everything changed! We are now playing great, we won against everybody and we didn't lose a game in the Polish Championship and so when the moment of our Cup Final came, we knew that we were going to take it."
"Nothing could stop us, no matter our injuries or any bad moments."
In terms of the influence of Dikeoulakos, Babkina couldn't be more appreciative of the situation she find herself in.
"He is the coach that I trust more than anyone, both with the Latvia National Team as well as with the Lotos team. He knows my game and he always leads me to my advantages."
"He also predicts when I start to lose my concentration and he gets me back very fast. I am really lucky to have him as a coach in both teams and I really enjoy our co-operation! "
The confidence still streaming from their working relationship helped Babkina harvest 13.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4 assists per game in EuroLeague Women and also saw her catapulted even further into the limelight with an All Star appearance on her home floor.
With the night also a chance for supporters to extend their Cup celebrations, it was an experience she won't be forgetting in a hurry.
"I had so much fun and it was so nice to be present at this celebration in our home city, it was so much easier for me to adapt inside the game where all the big stars of both Europe and the Rest of the World were around me."
Taking into account the success of last summer during the Qualifying Round with the National Team and all the water that continues to pass under the bridge with her club team, it's been hard a hectic and eventful year or so for Babkina.
She fondly recalls the dramatic events of the National Team punching their EuroBasket Women ticket last year with a young team lacking big names although admits, it's been difficult to look ahead to Poland with such an action packed season at club level.
"It was a big bet for most of the players, especially for us younger ones. The coach trusted us so much that we could make it without our big stars."
"At the beginning we were a little bit confused but game by game, we played better and better. By the end with a terrific play we managed to win that bet."
I was very excited when we qualified for EuroBasket Women but since then, I haven't had the time to even think about it much."
"The games with Lotos Gdynia were in front of me and especially now with the play-offs. So, I guess after these games and when I join the National Team, I'll have the time to feel really excited about it again."
"However, in terms of our expectations for EuroBasket Women, we prefer not to say anything. We always just prepare for the next game, and we are sure that by the end of the tournament, we're going to be happy!"
With other young Latvian players like Sabine Niedola also looking like they could be part of an exciting future for the National Team, it's a scenario that appeals to Babkina although she is astute enough to know there is still some way to go yet.
"I really hope it's going to be like that. I just need to work harder and harder in order to reach to that level."