The Story of the VEF basketball team
Founded in 1958, the legendary VEF team is named after the factory of VEF (in Latvian, VEF - Valsts elektrotehniskā fabrika; in English: State Electrotechnical Factory). The factory had its own sports club and the basketball team formed a part of it.
VEF played its first match in 1958, hosting the Czechoslovakian club Spartak ZJS Brno in Daugavas Stadium and ending up with a victory, 80-69.
Alfreds Krauklis was the first head coach of the team, acting as the cornerstone of the club and its first triumphs.
During the first years following foundation of VEF, Latvian basketball was ruled by another team from Riga, the ASK (Army Sports Club). At that time ASK team was the best in entire Europe, having won three consecutive European Champions Cup trophies. VEF lived in their shadow, but the team was very competitive.
In 1960, VEF won its first prize, finishing third in the USSR Premier Basketball League. In 1966, same accomplishment was repeated, winning bronze medals for the second time.
During this time multiple VEF players represented the Soviet Union basketball team at the Olympics and European Championships. Cezars Ozers (in 1960) and Juris Kalnins (in 1964) won silver medals at Olympic Games, while Olgerts Jurgensons (in 1963) and Visvaldis Eglitis (in 1965) were part of teams that won European Championships.
Return to the Elite
After success in the first years, mediocre results followed as VEF dropped out of USSR Premier Basketball League (the top competition in region at the time). In the 1977-1978 season VEF returned to the top league, achieving its best results in 1985 (5th place) and 1991 (3rd place).
One of the brightest VEF players of that time was Valdis Valters. Being a true franchise player he represented the team for 15 seasons. While player of VEF, Valdis Valters won World Championship in 1982, as well as two European Championships (1981 and 1985) with Soviet Union basketball team. Another player that showcased himself well in VEF uniform was Andris Jekabsons, nicknamed Jabbar. His performance with VEF played a key part to earn place in Soviet Union team. Along with Valters he became the runner-up in the 1986 World Championship.
In the 80s, VEF produced more notable Latvian players such as Gundars Vetra, Karlis Muiznieks, Igors Miglinieks, Raimonds Miglinieks, Ainars Bagatskis who all later had prolific careers in basketball.
First Taste in European Competitions
In 1990/1991 season, with many of the previously mentioned players on the roster, VEF made its debut in European basketball competitions by playing in the European Cup Radivoj Korac. The following year VEF also played in the European Cup. However, due to rapid changes in the region, the decision in 1992 was made to cease operations of the VEF basketball team.
In its first run VEF basketball team had proven itself as an important part of improving the strength of Latvian basketball. Not only VEF raised next Olympians, World and European Champions, it also had the fighter spirit that inspired all of Latvians. VEF played its part of empowering the national identity of Latvia.
With the rich Latvian basketball tradition in mind and VEF basketball team’s role in it, this story had to be continued. As a result of several powerful people’s initiatives, this legendary brand was re-established on May 15, 2007, creating the VEF Riga basketball club. In the list of re-founders were Valdis Valters, Edgars Jaunups, Martins Lauva, Raimonds Kisiels, Ivars Berzins, as well as Joint Stock Company VEF.
Already in its first season VEF Riga made the semifinals of Latvian Basketball League (LBL). The same result was achieved year later. In its first two seasons of the new era VEF Riga was in the shadow of other basketball clubs in Riga. However, soon the balance of power shifted. In 2009-2010 VEF Riga returned to the European competitions by participating in FIBA EuroChallenge. For the first time team played in the VTB United League. At the end of this season VEF Riga made the LBL finals for the first time falling just short of the championship.
Huge turn in development of VEF Riga came in 2010 summer, when a core of Latvian players such as Kristaps Janicenoks, Kaspars Berzins, Dairis Bertans, Sandis Valters and Gatis Jahovics was assembled. This core helped to achieve decent results in the following years.
At the Top of the Latvian basketball
In 2010-2011 VEF Riga made the next step and for the first time played in the ULEB Eurocup. VEF made Baltic Basketball League finals for the first time in Latvian basketball history and at the end of the season won its first LBL championship in the history of club.
Success continued in the next seasons as VEF Riga was the Latvian champions in 2012 and 2013. Besides dominating domestically, VEF Riga played well internationally, as the team reached Top16 in Eurocup for consecutive years in 2012 and 2013. Also, VEF Riga made the playoffs in the VTB United League in 2013.
Dairis Bertans and Kristap Janicenoks, VEF Riga’s domestic players at that time, were named Latvian players of the year in 2012 and 2013, respectively. In addition to producing and gathering quality local players, VEF Riga employed skilled foreigners. For example, center Antanas Kavaliauskas made Lithuanian National Team roster for the 2012 Olympic Games in London while being a player of VEF Riga. Meanwhile E.J. Rowland, VEF Riga’s point guard in 2012-2013 campaign, was named MVP of the entire VTB United League.
In May 2015, VEF Riga’s added one more cup to its trophy case as the team won its fourth LBL championship. In 2017, VEF Riga won its fifth Latvian championship with team that featured head coach Janis Gailitis and captain Janis Blums. Mareks Mejeris played important role in both of these championships winning playoffs MVP award.
VEF Riga is striving for high goals on the basketball court and at the same time is contributing to the basketball development in Latvia. It is no coincidence that a large number of current Latvian National Team players at some point of their career have gone through VEF Riga where they gained valuable experience that is useful in their further careers.
VEF Riga has gone through ups and downs, but it is constantly keeping its way to new heights to make sure that club is getting more competitive internationally and can bring back Latvia’s name to the top of European basketball.