“We won the Bucharest Challenger and qualified for the Masters in Luasanne. We’re all in pain, but that’s what happened here. It’s a huge joy, you’ve seen the celebration. We also had chance on our side, it was fantastic” an ecstatic Agnis Cavars revealed, just seconds after the icon University Square in Bucharest witnessed four Latvians unleash. They screamed their hearts out, jumped like crazy and then collapsed on court, as if they were about to draw their pairs of wings, just like children do in the snow.
Riga Ghetto Basket won the Challenger in Bucharest, playing all three elimination-rounds in three men, with no reserve. For them, it was 3×4: and they even survived over-time! Nauris Miezis, Agnis Cavars and Karlis Lasmanis could not afford a break, not one moment to breathe. Edgars Krumins, the number one player in Latvia – a country that took 3×3 by storm and won the 2017 Europe Cup, just out of nowhere, has sustained an injury from the group stage. At that moment, Cavars admits, none of them thought they could take home the $ 6,000 check.
Yet, Riga Ghetto turned Sunday’s final day at the Bucharest Challenger into a super-humans’ tale. They started with a third consecutive KO group-stage victory, finishing the match before the completion of regular time, 21-9, against the youngest competitors in the draw, Bucharest Littles (a squad of teens U18).
And things only got tougher.
Bucharest Legends kept the semifinals hope alive to the last second
“We showed our character here and the one Above helped us too” were Cavars’ first words, after a crazy quarterfinal against Virgil Stănescu & Co. Bucharest Legends, the only Romanian team out of four who managed to make it past the group phase, played a great match and delivered, with 19 points, their best offensive performance in the tournament. The fans welcomed them with Mexican waves, carried every 2-points attempt with their energy and made a superb atmosphere. It was not enough, however, because the Latvians sensationally came from behind in the last minute, even managing to avoid the extra time and sealed with a two-points basket yet another win by reaching the 21 points-limit (22-19, final score).
“It was incredibly hard, but it was a sensational audience. I think we gave them a great match and probably, in the end, you know, we still had a bit of an advantage, physically. It was amazing, but it was and it’s gonna be hard for us further, in 3“, Cavars concluded, while sweating hard.
Riga Ghetto pulled the final ticket from Ljubljana’s hands
The semifinal saw the kings of Riga face 2016 FIBA World Tour champion, Ljubljana. It was a close contest, with head-to-head progress from the teams, but the Slovenians have held a finger ahead at all times. That was until the last 10 meters, when the three iron-men from Latvia leveled the score, to 16. The ball refused to get through the basket past that, for the win, and made room for extra-time. The throws from outside the semicircle refused to enter, first for the Latvians, then for the Slovenes. It was Ljubljana who managed to score first, had a penalty shot for victory, but Riga Ghetto survived. And the boys scored two baskets, the last two of the match, qualifying for the final. “Crazy!” – Cavars’ description, in one word.
At the time, Zemun was already recovering, resting for the final. Serbia’s Bogdan Dragovic, Lazar Rasic, Marko Dugosija and Nikola Vukovic scored the big upset, defeating the title-holder Novi Sad Al Wahda. It was 20-16, the score for Zemun’s victory after a fantastic comeback and a tense fight against their training mates. Even about five minutes before the start of the confrontation in the semis, Vukovic and Bulut trained side by side on the same secondary court built in University Square. Unlike the quarterfinals, where the world-leading team had a slow start against Amsterdam, Novi Sad started strong in the last 4. But then came the misses and Zemun took advantage with clear, clean executions.
Brief rain-delay and strong emotions for Riga Ghetto in the final
By the start of the final, the boys in Riga had already gathered some fans: their story had won the hearts of the people in Bucharest, left with now local team to support.
The final had tons of drama: before entering the court, the Latvians were desperately asking for painkillers and when one of the three players on the field cut a finger, things got even more complicated for the Ghetto squad. Knowing that he could not stand a chance on court, Krumins took a time-out and rushed to his backpack for patches. And meanwhile, rain splashes came out to spoil the party. Fortunately, it was only a brief rain delay and, as the organizers expected such a scenario, they efficiently covered the ground to keep the delay to a minimum. The fans did not let go of their seats and their patience was rewarded with some more high-intensity basketball. The Riga Ghetto went all the way and won 13-12 against Zemun, a team that will join them to Lausanne Masters.
The run to the final brought Zemun a $ 4,000 check and the boys added to their trophy tally in Bucharest with Lazar Rasic’s win in the One Blade Shootout competition that tested the players’ target from behind the semicircle.
By winning in Bucharest, Latvia’s Riga Ghetto Basket secured a maiden appearance at a World Tour Masters tournament in the FIBA 3×3 calendar.
16 teams from 13 countries competed at Raiffeisen Bank Bucharest Challenger: three of the best five teams in the world made the trip to Romania’s capital city. The Top 10 players in the FIBA World Rankings showed up for the University Square contest on Saturday and Sunday.