U20 Women - Latvia
|Sabina Niedola and Latvia finished 8th at EuroBasket Women with the young forward logging more than 22 minutes per contest|
Sabine Niedola can be forgiven if she's a little battle weary upon her arrival in Zrenjanin, Serbia, this week.
One of the most exciting talents in Latvian basketball the past few years has just finished competing with the senior team at the EuroBasket Women in Poland and will now play at the U20 European Championship for Women.
Niedola, who turned 20 on April 29, didn't just make up the numbers with the Latvian side the past few weeks but played big minutes, averaging 22.3 in nine games.
In Latvia's bounce-back victory against France, a 59-56 overtime triumph in Katowice that put the Baltic side on the way to Group D supremacy, Niedola played 33 minutes and contributed five points, five rebounds and tough defense.
Latvia ended up reaching the Quarter-Finals but lost to Russia, and then fell to Croatia and Lithuania to end up eighth in Poland.
It marked the second EuroBasket Women appearance in a row for Niedola, who had a limited role two years ago when Latvia hosted the event.
"It's a great experience to be at the EuroBasket Women," Niedola said to FIBAEurope.com.
"In 2009, I didn't play a lot.
"I just watched from the bench. This year is much different.
"It's been a different experience."
Niedola has heard it often, that she's the brightest hope of Latvia women's hoops.
When told she was one of the youngest players at the EuroBasket Women in Poland, she bristled.
"I didn't know that," she said.
"I know Montenegro have a 17-year-old (Ana Turcinovic) and our team is pretty young, too, so I don't feel that."
The fact remains that Niedola was the youngest player in a Latvia shirt in Poland.
Many a Latvia player has travelled overseas to study and play American college basketball but Niedola chose to remain in Europe and launch a professional career.
She is coming off her rookie campaign in France with Nantes Rezé.
In the EuroCup Women, she averaged 9.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in the club's 12 games in 2010-11.
"I played in France with Nantes," she said.
"It was my first year there.
"In France, I think the league is really good and we played in the EuroCup Women.
"I had the French Cup, too, and the league, so there were a lot of games and it's a good experience.
"I had to practice a lot, improve my skills."
Niedola knows that she will carry a big reputation with her to Serbia for the under-20 event.
She wants people to realize there can be hitches when going from one team to another.
Just because she played at the EuroBasket Women doesn't mean she'll dominate in Serbia when Latvia play Group D games against Slovakia, Great Britain and Spain.
"I haven't practiced with the under-20s at all," she said.
"I will just fly to Serbia and play whatever.
"I don't know what they're doing so will just have to wait and see how it goes."
She says there are no guarantees in terms of playing time.
"I just have to be there and we'll see," she said.
"We have a good coach and a good team, so we'll be fine.
"I know the players, the coaches and they know me - it will be interesting."
Because Niedola had to go from France straight to the Latvia team after the end of her domestic season, she's not been able to head to the beach for a break.
"Not yet," she said.
"But we finish July 17 and after that, it's a break - summer, beach. It will be the first time in five years I'll get that."
Niedola's shown so much promise on the basketball court that most of her free time has been in the gym.
"I still have to work hard during the summer, but you do need breaks and to rest," she said.
Keeping Her Feet On The Ground
Something that Niedola knows very well after playing at the EuroBasket Women two years ago and this summer is that there are going to be highs and lows for every national team, and every player.
"I think this one was an exciting EuroBasket Women," she said.
"Even Spain were knocked out, but that's women's basketball.
"You never know what can happen.
"I'm just lucky to have been here, and to have played with the older players because I don't know how many more years they'll play.
"They try to explain things when I don't know something, or help me on the court, explain things in practice and off the court."
Women's basketball is hugely popular in Latvia so everyone there knows who Niedola is.
Yet she hasn't been carried away by her celebrity.
She is more concerned about getting better as a player.
"You need to improve everything, work on everything - not just shooting," she said.
"You have to take something from everyone."
Niedola has a long way to go in the game but the start has been good.