MANILA, Philippines — Latvian guard Arturs Zagars is honored after setting a new Fiba World Cup record with 17 assists in a 98-63 loss to fifth-place Lithuania on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
His individual achievement, however, is only secondary to what Latvia managed to achieve in their maiden World Cup campaign.
“I was just passing the ball and my teammates also made shots at the start of the first half. It’s simple, I just passed the ball and they made the shots,” said Zagars, who also recorded no turnovers.
“Obviously I’m grateful (but) it means more that we finished in the top five than the record,” he added.
WORLD CUP RECORD HOLDER.
– FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 🏆 (@FIBAWC) September 9, 2023
Zagars had already made 10 assists by halftime. He tied the previous record of 15 held by Croatia’s Toni Kukoc and South Sudan’s Carlik Jones by assisting on an Anzejs Pasencniks floater with 4:13 remaining before dishing out a few more to seal the score.
Kukoc made 15 assists at the 1994 World Championships, where Croatia finished third while Jones momentarily shared the record on September 2 in a historic victory over Angola that gave South Sudan their first Olympic place.
Zagars downplayed his sensational play as he continued to deflect credit to his teammates.
“I play a lot of pick and roll because I’m a point guard. And I just try to read and trust my instincts. If I see a man open, I try to introduce him. If he makes the shot, it’s an assist,” said Zagars, who went undrafted in last year’s NBA draft.
“But I don’t think it’s anything special. Maybe it was just a bit of luck today. Because every time I passed the ball, like I said before, they were shooting. Nothing else to add.
Zagars, 23, added that it was surreal to have surpassed an elite player like Kukoc, who was a vital part of the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls team that won a three-peat from 1996 to 1998.
Latvian coach Lucha Banchi praised Zagars, not for his record but for his strong stint in the World Cup where the 6-foot-3 point guard averaged 12.4 points and 7.4 assists in eight matches.
“I don’t want to judge just a specific performance, I’m more interested in the tournament. I think Arturs played a solid tournament with great responsibility. He was in big shoes, as they said, because it’s his first participation in a World Cup, the first time as a starter in a men’s national team, in such a competition,” Banchi said.
“Replacing an iconic player like Janis Strelnieks was not easy. Second game we lost our captain and reference point on the court, but he continued to produce good basketball and help the team stay at this level of performance and prove that he can compete with the best and that he can help the team. Latvia will compete with the best team on the planet.
Banchi hopes Zagars’ strong World Cup campaign will open up bigger opportunities for him after playing in Europe in the club leagues of Spain, Germany, Estonia and Lithuania.
“That’s just the first step, the next is to get this guy a job because I think he deserves it.” This guy is young and he needs to play so let’s hope he finally finds a job and but I told you, I think Arturs played a solid tournament and together with his teammates he did a great job to maintain team performance, no matter who. opponent,” Banchi said.
“The team is on the right track to continue, improve and keep Latvia at a high level and I wish Arturs stays healthy and focused and once again, shows enthusiasm to lead the team from this country.”
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