There is a long line of Latvians who have left their homeland for Spain as youngsters to improve their development. The latest highly regarded prospect from the Baltic country is Freds Bagatskis, who chose Valencia Basket because of its outstanding new training facility and proximity to professional players.
Bagatskis once again showed at the Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament Valencia why he is one of the next great talents from Latvia. The guard averaged 10.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.0 assist in four games for U18 Valencia Basket at the event.
"This has been a tough year for everyone, so I’m just glad that we were able to play the tournament and compete at the highest level," said Bagatskis, who was playing in his second ANGT Valencia after averaging 9.8 points and 2.8 rebounds in 2019-20.
The 2.01-meter swingman said playing in the tournament last season helped him a lot this time around: "[I learned] not to be scared. This is a big stage for everyone and it’s important you don't get a mental block just from stepping on the court," he said.
Bagatskis was one of the few Valencia players returning from last year's team, and that meant he needed to take on more of a leadership role - something he enjoyed. "Having more leadership only makes me feel more confident about myself and the team, which is a huge plus in my book."
Bagatskis is the latest talent from Latvija to come to Spain early in his development following the likes of Kristaps Porzingis, Anzejs Pasecniks, Rolands Smits, the Kurucs brothers Rodions and Arturs, and Arturs Zagars.
"I didn’t really talk to anyone in that position at the time. I talked with Kristaps Porzingis after my move to Valencia and he said that Valencia is a great place for me to continue developing my game," Bagatskis said.
The club in eastern Spain has one of the best facilities on the continent in terms of capacity to help develop young talent in L'Alqueria del Basket. The venue, which hosted the ANGT Valencia for a third straight season, features six practice courts, an extra court with stands as well as amenities for workouts and business enterprises.
"The facilities were a huge standout," Bagatskis said about his decision to leave DSN Basketball and join Valencia in 2018. "Having the best installations in Europe really sets you out ahead over other clubs."
Bagatskis has already played for his native Latvia on the international level; he averaged 8.9 points and 1.4 rebounds at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2019. With Valencia, he has been playing for the club’s EBA fourth division side. But more importantly, he has been working on his game at L'Alqueria del Basket facility.
"The progress has been unreal and I’m thankful to the coaching staff for that. I would say they expect me to be the best player I can be at all times. It’s very simple," he said.
Another huge advantage for youngsters like Bagatskis is that Valencia’s professional team is only a stone's throw away since La Fonteta Arena is adjoined to L'Alqueria del Basket.
"You can really have that feeling of being a professional no matter what age you are and having the real professionals nearby is an even bigger bonus," he said.
For those wondering if they recognize the name Bagatskis, yes, Freds is the son of Ainars Bagatskis. The elder Bagatskis played at four FIBA EuroBaskets for Latvia, including placing second in scoring in 1997. He also competed professionally in Latvia, Norway, Poland, France, Russia and Lithuania. He appeared in 29 games in the EuroLeague for Zalgiris Kaunas from 2003 to 2005.
Ainars Bagatskis then became a successful head coach, serving as the play-caller for Zalgiris in the EuroLeague in 2006 and 2007 and also guiding Ukrainian side Budivelnyk, Nizhny Novgorod of Russia and Israeli giant Maccabi Tel Aviv in the EuroLeague. He was the Latvian senior national team head coach from 2011 to 2017 and guided it to three EuroBaskets.
In terms of lessons Freds learned from his father, he said: "The biggest one would be not to think too much. Just to go and play as well as I possibly can while enjoying the moment."
His father was known as a deadly marksman and Freds Bagatskis has inherited some of that. He boasts a sweet stroke from outside - through he struggled in this season’s ANGT Valencia, hitting just 8 of 34 three-pointers (23.5%).
"I can definitely dunk better than him," Freds joked about where he is better than his father. "One thing I hope I will have one day is his basketball IQ."
The younger Bagatskis is aware that dozens of players have gone from the ANGT to the EuroLeague and he hopes to follow in their footsteps one day.
"I'm pretty sure everyone thinks about stuff like that at some point when playing. I try to just focus on developing my game and competing day in and day out. Of course, it would be a dream to play in the EuroLeague and that’s definitely the goal for me," he said.
And being at Valencia and practicing with the coaches at L'Alqueria del Basket with the club’s professionals in the building next door will definitely help in him achieving that.