|Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various web-sites and publications across Europe. If you would like to contact Paul you can e-mail him here firstname.lastname@example.org.|
Despite being without Anete Jekabsone-Zogota last summer, Latvia still managed to qualify for EuroBasket Women 2011 and now they are preparing for life without their marquee player yet again.
That makes aligning expectations hugely difficult in comparison to two years ago when as hosts, the mission was relatively simple - to have a try at attaining a medal and certainly look to book a place at the FIBA World Championship Women - something which unfortunately, they failed to achieve on both counts.
At the time, it seemed a reasonable set of expectations. After all, Latvia had just played at the Olympics following two good EuroBasket Women tournaments and they were on home soil with plenty of players who could fire them to glory.
|Latvia will have to make do without Jekabsone for the second year in a row, but the good news is that Gunta Basko is back to take up the role of the leader of the team|
Two years later and there has been something of a sea-change with new coach George Dikeoulakos having to place a big emphasis on the young guns that did so well for him during the Qualifying Round.
Ask me what I think the true ambitions for Latvia should be at EuroBasket Women 2011 and I will be honest - my analysis is about as clear as mud! I genuinely think it is almost impossible to sketch out a realistic path of achievement.
The momentum gained by their success at EuroBasket Women 2007 and the Olympics of 2008 has slowed down and without their number one asset to call upon, logic would suggest something of a struggle could lie in wait when they take to the floor in Poland.
However on the flip-side, when you take into account the way they battled their way through the Qualifying Round last summer without the services of several key and experienced players then perhaps expectations might not have to dip too drastically. Particularly since Liene Jansone will be back, while in Gunta Basko and Zane Tamane, Latvia still have experienced leaders at both ends of the court who can make big contributions.
Even Head Coach George Dikeoulakos has been cautious about what he now feels should represent the true ambitions for the team. Indeed having given a significant amount of responsibility to young guns such as Elina Babkina and Sabine Niedola to also emerge as leaders to help get to the Final Round, it will be fascinating to see how the young players deliver when they are inevitably asked to step up once more
The play-caller has brought an entirely new philosophy and mentality to the team. He has repeatedly spoken of the need for his players to show a thirst for hard work and success as a team and one entity. He is also acutely aware of the tradition and the need to play a certain style of basketball.
While the sands of expectation might have shifted during the last 12 months and will probably continue to do so in the near future, the current position remains one that is difficult to decipher.
Though it would be no surprise if Latvia found it tough going in Group D in some respects it would not be much of a surprise if they once again dug deep and made it to the latter stages.
Last Time Out: Latvia finished 7th on home soil during EuroBasket Women 2009.
Key Player: Gunta Basko remains as influential as ever for Latvia and her longevity at the elite level has been remarkable. She looks as hungry and as enthusiastic as ever and that's good because rarely will she have had so much resting on her shoulders. A true leader for this young team and a tireless worker, her consistency and contribution at both ends of the floor will be pivotal. She can set the tone and will be the heartbeat of this team. Tenacious defensively and with many options in her locker on offence, it is likely that if the versatile Basko hits peak form, then Latvia will have a great shot of progressing.
Sleeper: If selected, 20-year-old talent Karline Nimane looks like she could do a job for Latvia coming off the bench. She helped her country to win successive bronze medals at the U20 European Championship Women during 2009 and 2010 and has made some steps in the preparation games during recent weeks as she looks to break into the senior team.
X Factor: It's been a remarkable year or so for Elina Babkina and that could continue in Poland if she continues to show the new-found maturity and form of last season when she flourished in EuroLeague Women. She seems to have thrived under the tutelage of Coach Dikeoulakos and with a big summer move to Fenerbahce already in the bag, it's time for her to show her value on the National Team stage. We have all seen glimpses of what she can do in a Latvia vest and of course she has played briefly at the Olympics but having not made the cut for EuroBasket 2009, Babkina could hold the key for Latvia this time around. She will also be aware the fanatical Fenerbahce fans will be watching and analysing her every move!
Did You Know? - This Latvia team has guts and can hold their nerve. They lost two of their first three games last summer and to stand any chance of qualifying, had to win their penultimate group game on the road in Israel. They did - by a single point in double overtime!
In Just Five Words - Most unpredictable team in tournament.