|Bertans: "The draw results are favourable to us"|
With the draw of EuroBasket 2013 now known, rising Latvian star Davis Bertans speaks with enthusiasm of his country's chances in a tough Group B alongside neighbours Lithuania and four Balkan states.
Bertans, who only turned 20 this month, has already featured in a EuroBasket tournament, playing alongside older brother Dairis in Lithuania in 2011. The younger Bertans played a significant role in the tournament for Latvia, averaging 5.6 points a night in a shade under 13 minutes playing time. Now, with another two years' experience under his belt, Davis' responsibilities in the national team are set to increase.
Despite not being in Postojna Cave for the 18 November draw, Bertans watched the results from close by in Ljubljana, where he and his Partizan teammates were preparing to take on Davis' former team, Union Olimpija, on Monday.
"The draw results are favourable to us," began the optimistic small forward, continuing, "I'm much more pleased this time than I was when I found out about our opponents for EuroBasket 2011. Although we have some unfavourable and strong opponents in our first round group, I really think we can finish in the top three teams."
The Latvians always tend to get up for their games against Baltic rivals Lithuania, whilst they also arrive in Jesenice in the knowledge that they have defeated Group B opponents Bosnia and Herzegovina as recently as summer 2012 during EuroBasket qualifying.
Discussing the Lithuania encounter, Bertans knows that, "This is a big derby for us and you can never know what is going to happen there. Of course, they are at a level better than us, but I think we still have a great chance because of the willpower we show whenever we play them.
The former national U19 captain also shared his thoughts on his rivals from the summer past: "We already played against Bosnia and Herzegovina this summer. We know how they play and personally, I know them very well."
Thinking back to summer evokes mixed emotions from Bertans. On one hand he and his teammates can feel satisfied at having accomplished their goal of qualifying for EuroBasket. On the other hand, they can also feel in hindsight that finishing higher in the group was within their reach.
Latvia began their campaign on the road in Sarajevo where they suffered a minor setback, giving up a late seven-point lead, eventually losing by three points. The youthful Latvians (Ainars Bagatskis' 2012 squad had an average age of just over 23) suffered further heart-break later in their campaign when naturalised Georgian Jacob Pullen sunk a buzzer-beating three to resign the Latvians to another loss. They had a chance to revenge the defeat to Georgia at home later in summer but could not hit either of two late three-pointers to send the game into overtime.
"It was good, but we simply could not do our best," reflects the NBA draftee. "We were so close to beating Bosnia and Herzegovina and Georgia on the road, and later Georgia at home. If we'd been successful in these encounters we could have easily finished in first place, but it was still good because we managed to qualify."
Being raced into the senior national team in 2011 has not come without some problems for the player who was drafted 42nd by the San Antonio Spurs in the same year.
|Bertans has not allowed half a missing finger to put him of his game|
Leading the Latvian U19 team on home soil at the FIBA U19 World Championship, before immediately moving into a role with the senior team proved stressful on his knees, but Bertans insists the problem is now behind him. "I had some problems, but now it is totally alright. It was a half a year of pain for me, but now it is fine."
The would-be lumberjack is no stranger to injuries. "It's true; I cut off half my ring finger while cutting wood as a young teenager." But he is refusing to allow the missing finger to affect his shooting style, claiming, "It does not bother me at all, when throwing the ball."
Bertans is already familiar with Slovenia and will somewhat feel at home there in the summer of 2013, given the city served as the first stop on his pro career outside of Latvia. However, his knee problems plagued his stay in Ljubljana so he continued his pro journey further south in Partizan.
Under Dusko Vujosevic, Partizan is proving the right fit for the young small forward who continues to seek an inside game to compliment his outside shooting.
"He is quite different from other coaches with whom I have worked so far. We have tough practices, really tough," says Bertans of life under Vujosevic, but adds, "He is good. I feel so good, that I never felt better in my entire career. I'm more confident and fitter than ever. It's true that I am a little tired right now, but it will surely pay off some day.