Having shone in the Latvian basketball league, this season he shines in Germany. A conversation with the national team candidate Kārli Šiliņa

During his career as a basketball player, Šiliņš has not lacked serious tests, having suffered a serious injury in the US university team. After two operations and rehabilitation, the basketball player was able to successfully return to university sports, but later chose to play for BK “Liepāja”, which became a successful springboard for Šiliņš’s career.

Ugis Brants: How did you start playing basketball?

Kārlis Šiliņš: I started around 7-8 years old. The initiative was more from my parents, especially my dad. Initially, I was sent to play tennis where my sister was already training. Dad, after attending one of my tennis practices, realized that I should play something else because I was fooling around a lot. Later, at the Āgenskalns primary school, where I studied, leaflets were distributed to the parents that the 3rd Riga Children’s and Youth Sports School was looking for tall girls for basketball. Initially, father had thought of sending my sister to train in basketball, but it turned out that I ended up in basketball, not my sister. I liked basketball right away.

You have not been a regular member of Latvian national teams at youth and junior age. Why didn’t you play in them more often?

In the younger age groups, I was not called to the national team and I think it was justified. I went to the European Championship in the U18 national team, but I didn’t go to the U20 of my age because I had an injury.

Kārlis ŠIliņš in training of the Latvian national team

Kārlis ŠIliņš in training of the Latvian national team

Photo: From the personal archive of Kārļis Šiliņš

In America, you started your studies at the University of Mississippi in 2016, but later you changed your university. Why didn’t you stay in Mississippi?

I played a couple in the first season [astoņas] games, even before our conference tournament started, but then, unfortunately, I got nervous. I had to miss the whole season because the injury was serious – a torn cruciate ligament.

Had surgery and went through a full cycle of rehabilitation, but the ligament did not heal as expected. About a year after the first operation, another operation had to be performed.

The second season was unsuccessful for the team, and at the end of it, head coach Andy Kennedy was fired, and his assistants were replaced. The new coach stated in the meeting after the season that he doesn’t really see a place for me in the team. I don’t hold a grudge against him, because the new coach hadn’t seen me play. Also, he allowed me to continue rehab while I find a new school. Mississippi even offered the option that I could finish my studies with them. Then you would count as part of the team, but you wouldn’t be able to actually play and train. I thought I could still play, so I looked for another school.

How did you choose a new university to continue your studies and play basketball?

Shortly after the meeting where I found out that the University of Mississippi team no longer wanted me, I contacted Todd Abernethy [pārstāvējis basketbola klubus “Barons” un “Ventspils”]. He was previously an assistant to head coach Kennedy at the University of Mississippi. Abernethy said he already had a premonition of my situation in Mississippi and wanted to help me. Abernethy also mentioned that there is a place in Boca Raton where Florida Atlantic University has a new coach, Dusty Mays. Abernethy wanted to know if I was interested in this, and I was more than interested given my situation in Mississippi. Later, I contacted the head coach of the team, May, and also collected additional information about the university and its surroundings.

What were the main differences between the University of Mississippi and Florida Atlantic University?

There is no denying that Mississippi is historically the more successful basketball program. Previously, Mississippi was almost always ranked higher by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The situation in Florida changed for the better after the arrival of Dusty May. My first season at Florida Atlantic University was his first as a head coach. Interestingly, Abernethy became head coach May’s assistant in the second season. Last year, the Florida team already played in the Final Four of the NCAA playoffs and included a couple of my former teammates.

What surprised you in America?

I had to start taking care of myself and it was a bit of a shock. The first month was challenging because there was a lot of news. It was surprising how popular college basketball culture is – with a very wide fan base.

The gym at my first university, the University of Mississippi, was of a very high standard, as were other facilities that could be compared to a high-level professional club.

From a domestic point of view, I was surprised by the openness of people – that completely unknown people come up to you and talk to you.

How do you rate your experience in America?

In general, I gained valuable life experience in America. I became stronger mentally because I had to overcome various difficulties not only on the sports field. You had to motivate yourself to recover from injuries, and it was also important to study well.

What would you recommend to basketball players who choose to go to America to play and study?

Be prepared that the training schedule in America will be more difficult than the current one. You should try not to put an additional psychological burden on yourself and approach everything with cool the head. Be aware that especially the first years in the NCAA will not be easy.

After graduating from university, he chose to continue his career at BK “Liepāja”. Why this choice?

Together with the agent, we understood that it would be a good place to get playing time and show yourself. Also, one of the reasons was that I knew the head coach Artūras Visocki-Rubeni. I had previously collaborated with him in the Latvian national team.

Was it easy to adapt again to European basketball after the NCAA?

At first, it took time to get used to European basketball and the new team again. Coach Visockis-Rubenis trusted me, and understanding my role in the team, I managed to improve my game, because I got to work on elements of basketball that I would not have the opportunity to perform in America. That’s how it all slowly seemed to come together.

The second season in BK “Liepāja” was successful for both you and the team. What was behind this performance?

It is a season I will remember for the rest of my life. It wasn’t like we beat everyone, but with the squad we had, it was unexpected enough. I think that

coach Visockis-Rubenis was able to bring out the best from each player. Each player had accepted and understood his role in the team.

Everyone understood how we can win games. The team was united both on and off the field. Sometimes I watch the last game in the bronze series against BK “Ogre”, and when the final siren sounds, I even get goosebumps (laughs). [LBL sērijā par bronzas medaļām BK “Liepāja” uzvarēja ar 3:1].

In the match against “VEF Rīga”, one victory was missing to reach the LBL final. How realistic was it to win the series?

There is always a chance, but “VEF Rīga” played better in those moments when it was most needed. To be honest, in the fourth and fifth games of the series [60:92; 61:87] it was already another level of “VEF” compared to the beginning of the series. In a sense, they were pushed against the wall and in the end showed that we were really teams of two different levels.

In the tournament of the Latvian-Estonian combined league, you ranked only in tenth position. Why did you fail to enter the TOP 8 and playoffs?

The season started well, but there was a turning point in the winter where we lost several important games. In some games we conceded to weaker opponents on paper, in others we lost by a couple of points, and at the end of the season we were just a couple of wins short of qualifying for the playoffs.

Last season, he was recognized as the most advanced player of the LBL and twice as the most valuable player of the month of the Latvian-Estonian basketball league. How important are such accolades to you?

Of course, it’s nice to receive awards and recognition. Even more enjoyable was having to bring pizzas to the team for it (laughs).

We had an unwritten rule in Liepāja that we bring a treat to the team for individual recognition.

The most pleasant thing was to receive a bronze medal together with BK “Liepāja”.

In the second season as part of Liepāja team, you showed a higher quality performance than in the first. How did you make such progress?

It wasn’t like there was a drastic change in my training process. Every summer after the season, I try to take time off to rest my head and body. After that, I try to objectively analyze the previous season and understand what I can improve. It could be said that the previous season in Liepāja was the first season in which the long-term invested work appeared. In the second season, I already knew my teammates, coaches, my role well, and in the end it resulted in progress.

After the bronze season in the LBL, he moved to Germany, where he joined the Bundesliga club “Gottingen”. What are the main differences between the two leagues?

You can immediately notice that Germany plays more physical basketball. Here, every game comes against big bodies, strong opponents and you have to go and must be hit.

The tactical stuff comes after that because you have to be able to play physical basketball. The balance of power is very similar in the middle part of the championship table and also below, and the team that wants and digs more on the given day often wins.

What were your expectations before the season in Germany?

I wanted to have a successful season. I realized that this is a big step up in my career. I looked at this more with an open mind. If the season was not successful individually, then this experience would be used to further improve and learn from mistakes. This mindset helped me not to put extra pressure on myself.

Be one of the leaders of the “Gottingen” team – average 14.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. How do you explain your successful performance?

I am back in a team where the coach trusts me. He knows how I played last season and lets me continue to do it the same way. Doesn’t put me in a certain frame, but let me play as I can.

Gottingen finished 6th last season, but this season you are more at the bottom of the table. Why hasn’t the team had a more successful season?

I think that the place in the table is objective. So many extensions [5 BBL un 2 FIBA Eiropas kausā] as this season I haven’t been together in my career – space somehow! We created problems for ourselves in many games and conceded at the very top. Now the players have a better understanding of the team’s game plan, and I think the end of the season will be much more positive.

You made it to the TOP16 phase of the FIBA ​​European Cup. Why is there a better performance in this tournament than in the domestic league?

Perhaps the opponents in the first round were a little weaker than in Germany. I admit that at the beginning we gained confidence for further games in this cup. It is difficult to point to one common factor.

Last season, the NCAA shot 3-pointers with 29.7% accuracy, but this season they are already 40.4%. How is the substantial improvement explained?

It’s definitely the work put in that shows in the numbers. In the summer, a lot of work is done on the litter.

I have always thought that a good performance starts in the head and transforms into confidence on the field.

If the shots are falling in, there’s no reason they shouldn’t keep falling.

Kārlis Šiliņš (right) and Latvian national team coach Luka Banki in training

Kārlis Šiliņš (right) and Latvian national team coach Luka Banki in training

Photo: From the personal archive of Kārļis Šiliņš

Why didn’t you manage to get into the main rotation of the Latvian national team?

Definitely because the competition is quite fierce. If absolutely everyone drives, then it is even more difficult, especially in the center position. I think that

membership in the national team has to be earned, so I try to come whenever I am invited to national team camps and road trips. When I arrive there, I try to make my contribution and fulfill my role, whatever it may be at that moment.

Since head coach Luka Banki has been leading the Latvian national team, voluntary national team trainings have been held, in which I have invested a lot of work and achieved the previously mentioned progress.

Did you follow the performance of the Latvian national team in the World Cup?

Of course, I follow. At times it was unbelievable how well the guys played. Of course, I believed in the team’s strength, but I doubt whether I would have predicted 5th place before the tournament. The team showed solid performance throughout the tournament. I had a training session with the current team when the national team played the decisive game against Germany, but I managed to see the last shot. Hats off to the guys in the squad.

Have you received an invitation to the Latvian national team before the 2025 European Championship qualifying tournament matches?

I have received. Before the games, there will be a camp for a couple of days.

When watching basketball, do you prefer NBA or Euroleague?

I like both leagues. During the season, I follow less, but now and then it happens. The NBA attracts more the playoffs, but the EuroLeague, in my opinion, is interesting throughout the season.

How do you spend your free time?

Let’s go for a walk with my girlfriend. On weekends, we go to some interesting sightseeing place. I also like to cook.

What is your signature dish?

I like to bake meatballs according to my mother’s recipe. They are respected in our house.

What type of person are you off the field?

I consider myself a positive person. I usually find a common language with others. I try to be a good and caring person.

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