Eurobasket 2017 - Bertans dreaming of medals with Latvia and... Porzingis
Latvia fans are keeping their fingers crossed that Davis Bertans and Kristaps Porzingis will put on the national jersey this summer as the country attempts to reach the podium of a EuroBasket for the first time in a very long time.
Latvia won the 1935 European Championship and finished runners-up four years later. Their best finish since the country declared its independence from the former Soviet Union was eighth in both 2001 and 2015.
Bertans, who last played for Latvia in their EuroBasket 2013 qualifying campaign, has spoken to FIBA.com.
Fans are wondering about what you and Porzingis might be able to do for the national team. What are your aims when it comes to Latvia?
My dream with the national team will be to get into the medal positions at the EuroBasket. Another huge dream will be to go one day to the Olympic Games. That would be amazing to reach for a little country like Latvia.
Speaking of EuroBasket 2017, what about facing Great Britain, Russia, Serbia, Turkey and Belgium in Istanbul?
I haven't thought that much about it as I am focused on my rookie season (with the San Antonio Spurs). We still don't know who is going to be here, but it is a tough group. There are a lot of great teams, a lot of good players and I think that everything can happen in this group. Hopefully we can make it to the next round, and when it comes to the knockout rounds, have some luck on our side to try to make it a big thing.
Your Spurs coach, Gregg Popovich, said you've got a bright future with the NBA team. In an interview with the San Antonio Express, he called you "an all-around" player and said your shooting skills are "pretty unique".
I feel good. At every game I get some more minutes on the court, and as I am getting adjusted to the way we play here, it is getting easier and easier for me.
There are so many players of other national teams on the Spurs roster like France's Tony Parker, Spain's Pau Gasol, Argentina's Manu Ginobili and Australia's Pat Mills. Have they, and San Antonio's style of play, made your transition to the NBA from Europe easier?
Yes, definitely. The systems and tactics are very similar to European basketball when compared to the other teams in the NBA, so the transition was kind of easy for me. You just try to do what the coach says and try to play together with your teammates. You don't need to be individually an amazing player, you just need to find your place and space in the team and accept it. You have to fit on the team and do your job.
At any point did you fear your career wouldn't take off after suffering a couple of serious knee injuries?
Not really. Maybe the first time when I got hurt, I knew it was a serious injury but when I got past that I knew I could use those weeks being off the court to work on improving other things. For the second injury, I knew it wouldn’t be a big deal. I knew it would take a lot of time, but I also knew that I would be back.
How did you cope with all of that attention received when you were just a teenager?
I have always tried to isolate myself from it, and not think too much about what I would do or become. My main goal during my injury for example, was just to come back and play basketball. I was not trying to put pressure on myself, just trying to play basketball, having only basketball on my mind.
In what way is Porzingis, who has yet to play for the Latvia senior team, having an impact on basketball in Latvia as an NBA player with the New York Knicks?
I think that having the KP6 phenomenon is already a big push for basketball in Latvia. You can see now that a lot of great Spanish teams are scouting and recruiting young Latvian players. (Porzingis left Latvia and played for Sevilla before leaving for the NBA). That helps put the whole country on the map. That is a very important thing for us. The NBA now knows where Latvia is and a lot of teams are going to keep looking for our young talents.
Are you two in frequent contact?
We have been texting back and forth and we will talk a bit more when we go back to New York to play the Knicks in February. We will have more time to discuss everything and see how things are going.