The news this morning that star player Linas Kleiza won’t play in the World Championship spread on social media like wildfire among the Lithuanian community.
The popular and highly effective former-NBA forward Linas Kleiza, was instrumental in the two major victories for team Lithuania in international competition in the last 5 years. The bronze medal in the last World Championship in 2010, and the silver medal in Eurobasket 2013.
According to head coach Jonas Kazlauskas , here is the official roster selection(omitting Kleiza): (Lietuvos rinktinės kandidatų sąrašas): Jonas Valančiūnas Donatas Motiejūnas, Martynas Pocius, Paulius Jankūnas , Renaldas Seibutis, Adas Juškevičius, Žygimantas Janavičius, Jonas Mačiulis, Kšištofas Lavrinovičius, Darjušas Lavrinovičius, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Mantas Kalnietis, Simas Jasaitis, Deividas Gailius, Šarūnas Vasiliauskas, Antanas Kavaliauskas, Artūras Gudaitis.
Earlier in the year, Kleiza had made an announcement himself that he would sit out in order to rest his sore knees which have been a problem for him since 2011. His announcement at the time was met with a huge wave of angry backlash on social media from thousands of disappointed fans of team Lithuania. He soon retracted his statement and claimed he would play, thus quelling their anger at least temporarily.
Now apparently, that retraction was only meant as a clever ruse to appease the public so he wouldn’t have to deal with their fury. The 29 year old Kleiza, recently played the entire 2013-14 season for club Fenerbahçe Ülker in Turkey. There the former-NBA player played 21:18 minutes per game and averaged 10.1 points and 3.5 rebounds a game. This wouldn’t have been possible if he had been hurt in a serious way. He was able to play when money was at stake, but apparently national pride isn’t enough motivation. It’s now quite obvious that he never intended to keep his promise to play for Lithuania after the initial mistake he made announcing on social media led to an immediate retraction of the statement. What’s worse, I believe that he even tried to make head coach Jonas Kazlauskas into his fall guy and patsy, breaking the terrible news to millions of disappointed fans. Quite a few of these disgruntled fans still are blaming him as if he made some kind of really bad roster decision in his final selection.
In addition to Kleiza being out, longtime team captain, Robertas Javtokas will also sit this one out due to the excuse of resting up to allow nagging injuries to heal. Kleiza, who has been the heart of Lithuanian basketball in recent years, just stuck a knife in that heart today. Without a real injury which would have prevented him from playing in the Euroleague, he appears to be putting himself before his country. While it’s a major disappointment, team Lithuania now needs to move on. The strength of team Lithuania has always been its depth. They have plenty of others to step up. That’s how they’ve always done things and always will. Others can and will be carrying the country’s banner into battle once again on the basketball court. Although it is a crushing blow to team Lithuania, it might in some ways actually be a blessing in disguise. The young front-court duo of Jonas Valančiūnas and Donatas Motiejūnas is ready to go after their rookie campaigns game them valuable experience in the NBA. Perhaps it is finally their time to get big minutes and lead the squad to victory. Although it is a highly troubling way for Kleiza to go out like this the torch truly needed to be passed to the younger guys on the team.