|Ieva Krastina represents the future of Latvian womens basketball|
By Paul Nilsen
You would be hard pressed to find a player who has made the same kind of instant impact at senior level as Latvian sharp-shooter Ieva Krastina.
In what proved to be a breakout summer of epic proportions for the 22 year old, the debutante turned out to be the main thrust behind a depleted Latvia gleefully punching its' ticket for EuroBasket Women in France.
Averaging over 10 points-per-game and establishing herself as the second most deadly three-point shooter of the entire Qualification Round, even the player herself hadn't anticipated such a superb start.
"Yes, this Qualification Round was my first experience with the senior Latvian national team and everything was new for me and very different from my time with the junior national teams" smiled Krastina.
"Of course I was initially competing to just get myself into the team and so I really didn't expect to play so many minutes or to score so many points.
"My goal was just to get onto the roster and to try and be useful in any amount of minutes I was given. And, it seemed that when I did this well, the coach began to trust me more and more.
"In terms of the success I had in my three-point shooting, I have to say thanks to my team-mates, because they saw that I was regularly undefended and gave good passes to find me which meant I didn't have anything more left to do but to just shoot the ball.
"But, of course, I'm happy not only with my own individual achievements, but mostly for getting to EuroBasket Women with the team."
The emergence of Krastina was a real bonus for new head coach Aigars Nerips who did a superb job of getting Latvia back to the top table, especially taking into account it was a relatively young team and one in transition due to a lengthy list of key absences.
According to Krastina, Coach Nerips is a hard taskmaster and someone who has demanded real structure and focus from the players, a philosophy which has proven fruitful during challenging times.
"First of all, Coach Nerips asks from everyone that they have strict discipline during practices and games" explained the guard.
"If you do everything that he asks, then of course it's okay. He doesn't always allow free-thinking, although there is always space for improvisation, but only when our tactics don't work.
"Individually, Coach Nerips asked me to play hard defence, to take all open shots and when our basic playmakers were too tired, to organise the game."
Indeed this is perhaps the most impressive element of what Krastina produced during her delightful debut campaign. Whilst her devastating downtown shooting grabbed the headlines, the sub-plot was 2.5 assists per game which underlines her true combo-guard capabilities.
Whilst a place in the Latvia line-up next summer looks all but assured, Krastina is taking absolutely nothing for granted and trying not to get too excited about the mouth-watering prospect of a first ever major tournament.
She insisted, "For the present, I'm trying not to think so far ahead right now.
"I'm focused on the club season with TTT Riga, but of course there is a hope inside me that I could play at my first ever EuroBasket Women tournament.
"And, if I'm going to be in the team next summer, I'm sure that the game against France will be the most highly attended game I've ever played in - although I'm sure, that one part of the crowd will be the Latvian fans!
|Krastina: "Looking at our group, I think we can be successful"|
"Looking at our group, I think we can be successful" added Krastina.
"Of course France will be one of the main favourites in this tournament, but the other teams are quite similar.
"We know there are never any bad teams at EuroBasket Women.
"However, like I said, I need to work hard and to show good performances during this season in the Latvian League."
Of course if her dream does come true, Krastina can probably expect a tougher time from opposing defences who will have read the scouting reports and will be a little wiser to the multiple dangers she poses.
But, she is already thinking ahead and preparing to combat more attention from her opponents now that she is no longer flying under the radar.
"This season, I'm trying hard to improve my one-on-one game and to also make better use of my passing skills" she said.
"I want to be a multi-dimensional player and not only someone who can be dangerous from the three point line."
Part of this on-going development won't only be witnessed at national team level, but rather at club level.
"It's possible that after this season, I'm going to try playing at a higher level in some other country - if there are any offers of course!
"But right now, I'm focused on finishing my studies this year and playing with TTT Riga."
As with many players who burst onto the scene in such spectacular fashion, dealing with the newly found burden of expectation is next on the agenda.
But, the hard-working Krastina seems well equipped to meet the challenge ahead and should be a name for us all to look out for next summer.