Porzingis promises entertaining national team debut

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Latvian basketball star Kristaps Porzingis, who will be making his debut with the senior national team in an exhibition match against Poland in Riga on Friday, hopes to please the home crowd with a spectacular slam dunk.

The match will tip-off on Friday at Arena Riga at 7:30 p.m.

''I am pleasantly nervous for my debut match, as it will be the first time I will put on the senior national team jersey. I hope that the arena will be packed and we get the win. I hope to please the crowd with a vicious slam-dunk,'' Porzingis said, who previously played in a Latvian jersey at Arena Riga during the 2013 European U-18 Men's Basketball Championships.

''I have painful memories from this tournament, as we lost to Spain in the match for third place. I recently watched a video from this match, and I still cannot understand how they were able to make the final basket.''

The New York Knicks forward has been with the national team since the first day of training camp, but had to leave in August for a short sting for an NBA commitment in South Africa, where he participated in a demo match between the World Team and African Team, scoring 14 points in the 108:97 win over Africa.

Porzingis also had the opportunity to practice together with his childhood idol - Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki.

''These were not serious practices, just a bit of shoot around and some friendly competitions between one another. I had the opportunity to talk with him and ask him questioned. The only practice time for us was at seven in the morning, because the kids began their practices at 10 a.m. Almost all of the players were at the court around this time, and thus I had the opportunity to train together with Nowitzki and chat with him. He said that if I had any questions, that I can ask him anytime. I wishes to get in contact with him last year and meet for some training session, but he was in Germany and I was in North America. He also asked me about the situation within the Knicks,'' Porzingis said.

Nowitzki has suited up for Germany at seven European Championships in the past.

''I asked him about the national team. He said that in the first years everyone tried to be physical with him to get him out of his comfort zone. He told me to be prepared for a tough time in the beginning,'' Porzingis said.

Porzingis believes that when playing against European players, he will have more of an advantage in the paint.

''At the same time, when centers are guarding me, I will be able to coax them out of the paint with my shooting. We will see how each team will play me defensively,'' Porzingis said.

Meanwhile, the head coach of the Latvian team Ainars Bagatskis, who previously served as an intern with the Dallas Mavericks in 2010 and has since developed as a highly respected coach in Europe, points out that he has encountered and worked together with many talented players in his time, but none as talented as Porzingis.

''Kristaps is not only the best, but also most talented player I have worked with. He is just 22, but has an excellent attitude towards work and developing himself as a player. A basketball player's prime years are from about the age of 25, so after two or three years he could become unstoppable. His work ethic at the moment is at the highest level,'' Bagatskis points out.

After Friday's match against Poland, Latvia will play another three exhibition matches at home ahead of EuroBasket - next weekend against Lithuania and Romania, and on August 24 against the Czech Republic.

The match against Lithuania on August 19 is being highly anticipated in Latvia. The New York Post even reported earlier this month that Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek and the team's new general manager Scott Perry might also be in attendance. However, Porzingis said that he has not heard whether or not the two Knicks representatives will indeed arrive in Latvia.

EuroBasket 2017 will take place from August 31 to September 17 in four cities - Istanbul (Turkey), Helsinki (Finland), Tel Aviv (Israel) and Cluj Napoca (Romania).

Latvia will play in Group D in Istanbul against the hosts, Serbia, Russia, Belgium and Great Britain.

Latvia will open the tournament on September 1 against Serbia.

The top four teams in the group will advance to the tournament's knock-out phase.

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