By Jeff Taylor
Meet Gunta Basko, a much travelled one.
The 30-year-old has played for teams all over the world.
Turn the clock back to 1999 and Gunta travelled to America to play college basketball at Siena.
Since graduating in 2003, she's had stops in Israel, France, Spain, Italy and now Poland, where she's on the books of EuroLeague Women outfit Wisla Can-Pack Krakow.
Krakow could end up being the best place of all for her.
"I enjoy it a lot," she says to Basketball World News.
"It's so close to Latvia and reminds me a lot of home."
She has good memories of the other countries she's lived in.
Bring up France, where Gunta once played for Tarbes and Montpellier, and she says, "I think of baguettes, foie gras and red wine."
Mention Spain, where Gunta competed with Halcon Avenida (2008-09) in Salamanca, and Gunta laughs.
"Chicas! Lots of things. People come to mind," she says.
Then there is Italy, where Gunta played for Reyer Venezia last season.
|Gunta Basko has fond memories of every single country she's lived in, but there's still no place like home |
"Venice! GON-DOH-LA (Gondola) and Marco Polo square," Gunta says.
Home Sweet Home
There is no place like Latvia for Gunta Basko.
And there is no player like Gunta Basko for Latvia.
She is the most popular of all the national team players.
At the EuroBasket Women 2009, her image was on posters everywhere.
She endorsed a bottled water brand, a campaign that ran again this August and September when she captained the national team and helped them earn a place in next year's EuroBasket in Poland.
When Gunta runs onto the floor during player introductions, or re-enters the game after taking a break, the home crowd gives out a roar.
Latvia, with a new coach in George Dikeoulakos from Greece, had a difficult start.
The players had to make a major adjustment.
For the first time in a long time, Latvia had no Anete Jekabsone-Zogota, the 2007 FIBA Europe Player of the Year who had averaged more than 20 points per game for the team at the EuroBasket last year.
She had announced after that tournament that she would take some time away from the national team to focus on her club basketball.
How unusual was the national team experience in 2010 for Gunta?
"This year was different because we all spoke in English," Gunta says, with Dikeoulakos having replaced Ainars Zvirgzdins.
"But that was the least of the differences.
"It is different to play without Anete. Everyone here had to step up and play much better, show more responsibility.
"I think for the coach, it was also an interesting experience...
"I think he did a great job."
After losing two of their first three games, the Latvians faced the very real prospect that they would not qualify for the EuroBasket Women 2011.
They rallied, though, by beating Romania, Israel and then Serbia to earn a trip to the EuroBasket.
They had needed to win by a big margin against the Serbians to finish above them in a goal differential tie-breaker.
"I think the last three games, we knew we had no other choice but to win," Gunta says.
"We prepared well for the games and in the last one, it finally came out as to what we can do.
"We played well and it was really enjoyable to have that game at home and in front of all those people."
The attendance in Riga was listed at 2,000 for the Serbia game.
"I felt very proud of our team, that we qualified," Gunta says.
Dikeoulakos says Gunta's presence makes all the difference in the squad.
"What I like a lot is her ability to transfer energy to her teammates," he says.
"She is true leader on the court, as well as off it. Always with a smile, ready to bring the good atmosphere, there is always a good atmosphere where Gunta is. And when there is tough moment, she is the one that will encourage her teammates."
When Jekabsone was in the team, she was the team's first option on offense, yet Gunta stood out when games hung in the balance.
|Latvia coach George Dikeoulakos admires Basko for not being afraid to assume responsibility when the going gets tough|
She still does.
"I also admire her willingness to take the last shot," Dikeoulakos says.
"You need guts for that. I think these things are more important to a player, more important than being a good shooter, rebounder or defender.
"For those things, such players will live forever in fans' hearts once they have quit playing, something that I hope Gunta will only decide after many, many years."
Reunited, And It Feels So Good
Gunta has fond memories of working with coach Jose Ignacio Hernandez in Salamanca.
He left Avenida after the 2008-09 campaign to coach at Wisla.
"I think it had some influence on my decision to come here," she admits, "plus I wanted to be closer to home.
"Additionally, they're playing in the EuroLeague and Krakow have such a great history in basketball. I wanted to be a part of something big."
All was going well for Gunta before she and her Wisla teammates travelled to the land of foie gras on October 27 and lost in an upset to USO Mondeville.
On their return to Poland, Gunta and her teammates beat Lotos Gdynia but it came at a cost as she suffered a foot injury that has sidelined her for a month.
"It's so unlucky," Gunta says.
"I fell and this girl fell on me, not on purpose.
"It was unfortunate and I'm really disappointed that it happened but it's sports and I have to look forward and recover.
"There are some really lucky people and I was counting myself as one of them.
"Even now, I'm lucky that I didn't fracture it. You just have to look at the bright side of life, of things."
Gunta says the foot was placed in a cast and that it won't come off for a couple of weeks.
The frustrating aspect of the injury for Gunta is that she will have to watch from the sidelines when her teammates play, as she did on Thursday night when Wisla scraped a two-point win.
Victory wasn't assured until the final seconds when Wisla center Janell Burse intercepted a pass by Pecs veteran Dalma Ivanyi.
Wisla have a lot of firepower and are the favorites to win the title in Poland this season.
"I think there are a lot of good teams here and there are surprises," she says.
"As long as we focus on each game individually and go step by step and not start thinking that we are the favorites, we can go far. We just have to keep our focus."