Injury Problems Hinder Latvia's Eurobasket Preparations

04 August 2003
From PA International, Riga (Eurobasket 2003)

Injuries have given coaches numerous  headaches at past European Championships so it wouldn't be surprising if  Latvia boss Armands Kraulins has been reaching for aspirin of late.  Guards Raimonds Miglinieks and Edmunds Valeiko have been suffering from  groin and knee injuries, respectively, while 6ft 8in (202 cm) Raitis Grafs is  bothered by an Achilles tendon problem. 

Viesturs Lavins, the team doctor, said: "Valeiko's rehabilitation seems to  be going very good - in fact very good in comparison to similar cases we  have had in the past.  "However, we have more problems with Miglenieks whose injury has a longer history. He is suffering from other things as well." 

As for the 22-year-old Grafs, who played for Latvia at the World Championship for Junior Men four years ago and was then in their European Championship squad two years ago in Turkey, it could take a week before he  is fully fit.  Valeiko, now 21, played for Latvia at the last Eurobasket and averaged only 1.8 points per contest. 

The most important of the trio could be Miglinieks, a veteran at 33 who can hurt teams with his long range shooting.  He made almost 43% of shots from behind three-point line and averaged more than 12 points in five semi-final round games in which Latvia finished second to France in Group D. 

Latvia first gathered in the city of Valmiera from July 7-16 to take part in a camp at which 65% of the time was dedicated solely to physical fitness with the remaining 35% spent on court with the basketball.  "It went well - better than I expected, concerning both the amount of practices carried out, and the ability of the players to withstand it," said Kraulins, deemed a legend in his country.  Two days later the players reconvened in Riga to continue their workouts.  Importantly, the team was joined by Roberts Stelmahers, Miglinieks, and  Grafs, who had just returned from the United States after failing to latch  on to a new club. 

Stelmahers, a 28-year-old guard who played in all 10 of Latvia's qualifying games, is sure to be an important figure in Scandinavia.  He shot a very credible 39.5% from behind the three-point arc during the semi-final round and averaged more than 13 points a contest.  Latvia was forced to cancel a scheduled friendly against Senegal after the African team's players were refused visas to enter France.  Looking for warm-up games, the Baltic side accepted an invitation to a tournament in Sweden from August 9-11.  Slovakia, Eurobasket hosts Sweden and Bosnia will be their opponents in  the tournament.  The team will then take on Russia and Australia on August 14 and 16, respectively, here in Riga.

Kraulins still has some thinking to do before he decides on his final roster. He is understood to be considering Sandis Valters and Troy Ostler  - a player who also failed to find a club in America and is expected to return to Latvia..  The American-born Ostler, a power forward/centre played collegiately at Hawaii, joined Skonto Riga two years ago and averaged almost 21 points and 5.2 points a game last season.  He gained Latvian citizenship in April. 

Valters has signed one-year contract with German club TBB Trier.  The leader of the Latvian team, Kaspars Kambala of Real Madrid, will be joining the team this month.  Kambala was the team's leading scorer during the semi-final round, averaging better than 21 points per game.

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