Lithuanian National Basketball Team – are they good enough for another medal at the World Championship?


After the disappointing loss to France in the Finals of the Eurobasket 2013, team Lithuania must now focus on the next tournament, the World Basketball Championship in Spain.

This tournament begins in early September for two long weeks when the international basketball world will be glued to their TV’s, cheering on their national teams. Lithuania, a country of a mere 3 million, has always been a perennial contender in international basketball with unbelievable success.

This is a source of great pride not just for Lithuanians in Lithuania, but also for the million-plus Lithuanians in the diaspora world-wide.

The silver medal they earned in Slovenia got them a ticket to Spain and improved their FIBA ranking from 5th to 4th in the world.

Of all the Lithuanian basketball players around the world, a candidate roster of finalists who could receive the honor of playing for their country was released several weeks ago.


Jonas Kazlauskas | Photo: BR Archive

Jonas Kazlauskas‘s list includes a nice mix of seasoned veterans and up and coming young athletes from Lithuania’s “Golden Generation”. These youngsters have already earned several gold medals in FIBA U21 competition together, even defeating U21 team USA at various times.

Lithuanian National Team Candidate roster for the FIBA World Basketball Championship 2014(with NBA & Euro league statistics):

Head coach: Jonas Kazlauskas

Assistant coach (es): Darius Maskoliūnas Gintaras Krapikas

CENTERS: 1)C –JAVTOKAS , ROBERTAS, 34 years(20 March 1980) , 2.11 m (6 ft. 11 in) Robertas Javtokas stats with BC Žalgiris(2013-14) : . He scored in average during the regular season and playoffs 9.7 points in 24:50 minutes of playing. He also managed to grab 5.3 rebounds on average per game. 2)C — LAVRINOVIČ, DARJUŠ, 34yrs(1 November 1979), 2.12 m (6 ft. 11 in) BC Budivelnyk Darijuš Lavrinovič Euroleague stats for BC Budivelnik in Ukraine(2013-14): He scored 15.1 points on average per game and grabbed 5.4 rebounds in 30 minutes of playing. 3)C –VALANČIŪNAS , JONAS 22yrs(6 May 1992) 2.13 m (7 ft. 0 in) Toronto Raptors Jonas Valančiunas stats with the Raptors(2013-14): 11 points ,9 rebounds, 1 block per game, 76 percent FT , 28 min/game , 53 percent FG 4)C — KAVALIAUSKAS, ANTANAS, 29years( 19 September 1984), 2.09 m (6 ft. 10 in) , BC Lietuvos Rytas . Antanas Kavilauskas is unlikely to be selected to the team unless there are injuries to the top-tier candidates at the center spot. Worth noting that he played for Team Lithuania at the London Olympics 2012. This means he has proven before that he would be willing to answer the call to duty.

FORWARDS/CENTERS: 1)F/C –MOTIEJŪNAS , DONATAS, 23yrs(20 September 1990), 2.13 m (7 ft. 0 in), Houston Rockets Donatas Motejūnas stats for Rockets (2013-14): 6 points per game, 4 rebounds per game, in 15 min per game, 61 percent FT , 25 pct 3pt-FG , 44 pct FG 2)F/C– LAVRINOVIČ , KŠIŠTOF , 34yrs( 1 November 1979) 2.10 m (6 ft. 11 in), Valencia BC & Žalgiris Kaunas Kšištof Lavrinovič stats for Valencia BC & Žalgiris Kaunas(2013-14): In 17:33 minutes of playing he scored 7.7 points per game and grabbed 3.4 rebounds on average per game.

POWER FORWARD: 1)PF — JANKŪNAS, PAULIUS, 30 years(29 April 1984) 2.05 m (6 ft. 9 in) BC Žalgiris Paulius Jankūnas stats for Žalgiris Kaunas(2013-14): For BC Žalgiris he played for 26:10 minutes on average per game and scored 8.8 points per game while adding 6.5 rebounds.

FORWARD: 1)F — Kleiza, Linas, 29 years(3 January 1985), 2.03 m (6 ft. 8 in) Fenerbahçe Ülker Linas Kleiza stats for Fenerbahçe Ülker(2013-14): The former NBA player decided to return to Europe during the last season and signed in the Turkish club Fenerbachce Ulker. There he played 21:18 minutes per game and scored 10.1 points per game. Kleiza also managed to grab 3.5 rebounds in average per game.

SMALL FORWARD: 1)SF — MAČIULIS , JONAS, 29years(10 February 1985), 1.98 m (6 ft. 6 in) Panathinaikos B.C. Jonas Mačiulis stats (2013-14): While playing for Panathinaikos BC in Greece, he played in average 23:52 minutes and scored 8.1 points per game with adding 4.2 rebounds. 2)SF — KUZMINSKAS, MINDAUGAS, 24 years(19 October 1989) , 2.06 m (6 ft 9 in), Unicaja Málaga Mindaugas Kuzminskas stats(2013-14) Kuzminskas played in Spain for Unicaja Malaga. While playing 14.14 minutes in average he scored 6.3 points in average per game along with grabbing 2.3 rebounds. 3)SF –JASAITIS, SIMAS ,32 years(26 March 1982), 2.01 m (6 ft 7 in) PBC Lokomotiv Kuban Simas Jasaitis stats (2013-14):While playing for the Russian club Lokomotiv Kuban , he played 21:30 minutes in average and scored 6.2 points per game and grabbed 2.8 rebounds.

SWINGMAN (GUARD/FORWARD): 1) G/F — Pocius, Martynas, 28 – 28 April 1986, 1.96 m (6 ft 5 in) BC Žalgiris Martynas Pocius stats (2013-14): He played for Žalgiris Kaunas. There, in 23:13 minutes of playing, he scored 10.8 points per game and grabbed 2.9 rebounds. 2)G/F– GAILIUS, DEIVIDAS,26 years( 26 April 1988) 2.00 m (6 ft 7 in) KK Union Olimpija Deividas Gailius stats (2013-14): He played with the Slovenian club KK Union Olympia. He also played this season in Eurocup, where he scored 16.1 points on average per game with adding 5.1 rebounds in 27:55 minutes of playing.

SHOOTING GUARDS: 1) SG –SEIBUTIS, RENALDAS, 29years (23 July 1985), 1.98 m (6 ft 6 in), BC Lietuvos Rytas Renaldas Seibutis stats (2013-14): Seibutis is currently playing for Lietuvos Rytas out of Vilnius. For his club, Seibutis played an average of 26:45 minutes and scored 10.7 points per game. Seibutis also added in average 2.5 rebounds per match. He also found his teammates for 3.6 assists a game. 2)SG — GECEVIČIUS , MARTYNAS 26 years( 16 May 1988 ) ,1.93 m (6 ft 4 in), BC Lietuvos Rytas Martynas Gecevičius stats(2013-14): He played this season for Lietuvos Rytas as back-court mate to Seibutis. There, he scored an average of 12.4 points per match in 29:04 minutes of play and also grabbed 2.7 rebounds along with 3.1 assists.

GUARDS: 3) G –JUŠKEVIČIUS, ADAS 25years (3 January 1989) 1.94 m (6 ft 4 in), Eisbären Bremerhaven Adas Juškevičius stats (2013-14): Played this season in Eisbaren Bremerhaven in Germany. He didn’t play this season in Euroleague or Eurocup. In 2012-2013 season he played in Žalgiris Kaunas and scored there in average 2.1 points per game and added 1.2 rebounds per game.

POINT GUARDS: 1) PG –KALNIETIS, MANTAS 27years (6 September 1986), 1.96 m (6 ft 5 in), PBC Lokomotiv Kuban Mantas Kalnietis statistics (2013-14): He is currently playing for Lokomotiv Kuban in Russia. He played this season on average 28:07 minutes and scored 9.4 points per game with adding 3 rebounds per game. He also fed his teammates with 4.6 assists and shot 35 percent beyond the arc. Kalnietis played very well in the 2013 Eurobasket, and was an instrumental part of the team’s Silver Medal. NBA clubs like the Brooklyn Nets have invited him to play in the summer league which could potentially get him a spot on an NBA roster next year. He recently declined the attentions of NBA teams to lead team Lithuania instead. 2) PG –JANAVIČIUS, ŽYGMANTAS 25year (20 February 1989), 1.92 m (6 ft 4 in) BC TonyBet Žygimantas Janavičius stats (2013-14): Played for BC TonyBet Perienai in Lithuania. He did not take part this season in Euroleague or Eurocup. In the previous season his club played in Eurocup and there he scored in average 9 points per game and grabbed 2.7 rebounds per game.

The “Young guns” who made the candidate roster from the “golden generation”(U21 multiple gold-medal team): 1) F/C — SABONIS, DOMANTAS, 18 years (3 May 1996), 2.08 m (6 ft 10 in) Unicaja Málaga. Son of Lithuanian legend and president of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation, Arvydas Sabonis. He once had a 27 rebound game and is now committed to play for Gonzaga University in Washington State beginning in the fall. 2)G/F — GRIGONIS, MARIUS, 20 – 26 April 1994 1.98 m (6 ft 6 in) CB Peñas Huesca 3)SG — DIMŠA, TOMAS 20years(2 February 1994), 1.96 m (6 ft. 5 in) BC Žalgiris. Tomaš Dimsa is currently ranked #17 in NBA draft express International ’94 Rankings . There is potential that he could go to the NBA.

DEPTH CHART(From highest number of minutes to lowest)

Position- 1)Starter 2)Bench 3)Bench 4)Reserve 5)Inactive

C- 1)Darjuš Lavrinovič 2)Jonas Valančiūnas 3)Robertas Javtokas 4)Antanas Kavaliauskas

PF-1)Linas Kleiza 2)Donatas Motiejūnas 3)Kšyštof Lavrinovič 4)Paulius Jankūnas 5)Domantas Sabonis

SF-1)Jonas Mačiulis 2)Mindaugas Kuzminskas3)Simas Jasaitis 4)Deividas Gailius 5)Vaidas Kariniauskas

SG- 1)Renaldas Seibutis 2)Martynas Pocius 3)Martynas Gecevičius 4)Tomas Dimša 5) Paulius Dambrauskas

PG- 1)Mantas Kalnietis 2)Žygimantas Janavičius 3)Adas Juškevičius4)Marius Grigonis 5)Šarūnas Vasiliauskas

This depth chart be advised is from the 2013 Eurobasket and the pecking order might be different depending on how Coach Kazlauskas feels about what is best currently. One big change will most likely be at the center position. You would have to wonder about Coach Kazlauskas mind-set if he continued to start Darjuš Lavrinovič over Jonas Valančiūnas , who played very well for the Toronto Raptors.

The “Lithuanian way” isn’t really about star-power though, so Valančiūnas and other young talents taking a backseat to older veterans is the normal way things have always been. They have worked well this way too, judging from all the success. The Lithuanian way of basketball is very position-oriented, where each player has a clearly defined role on the team. This differs from the American or “NBA style”, where players have a nebulous position on the team and players often switch back and forth between multiple positions whether the coach chooses to go big or small. For Lithuanians, the TEAM ITSELF is the star player, not one player is above the team. This makes them an extremely deep team and very dangerous! This means they can sub in two to three players at every position with very little drop-off in production. This is a lot like the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are a team with a well-defined system who often play their role-players over so-called “stars” to great success. In this way, they maintain fresh legs on the floor as opposed to having one overworked star in the game for 40+ minutes. Someone like LeBron James of the Miami Heat who might be the only one capable of getting the production on the team . Like the Spurs , team Lithuania has been remarkably effective for decades with this style of play . Their players just want to serve a useful purpose by playing a role on a well-oiled team, pass-first machine of a team. They give up the good shot for the great shot. Ten total medals in international play for a country of 3 million doesn’t lie. Three Olympic bronzes, one World Cup bronze plus three gold medals , two silvers and a bronze in Eurobasket play. This is all in a country that’s only been independent for 23 years!

In the final analysis, team Lithuania’s future is heavily centered on how well their “golden generation” of young studs adapts to the rigid traditions that made Lithuanian basketball such a superpower since their independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. They have the talent , especially in their NBA front-court duo of Donatas Motiejūnas and Jonas Valančiūnas . In many ways, the San Antonio Spurs are the exception and not the rule in the NBA. Their style , like team Lithuania’s , is definitely NOT the easy path. They de-emphasize personal ego’s for the greater good. Unfortunately both of the Lithuanians in the NBA currently got drafted by teams that don’t rank too high in pass-first mentality. The Raptors and the Rockets both epitomize the NBA style. They score in isolation, play up-tempo, running and gunning , and have a star-centric mentality. The Toronto Raptors and the Houston Rockets are NOT the San Antonio Spurs. Team Lithuania likewise does not play “hero ball”, their style isn’t centered around star-power , but rather team-power . Jonas and Donatas have both made tremendous improvements despite these deficiencies of their clubs. Especially Jonas Valančiūnas , who started at the Center position the entire season , averaging 28 minutes a game for Toronto. He has shown remarkable consistency , nearly averaging a double-double. He is the key to Lithuania’s basketball future along with Motiejūnas , who didn’t get nearly the minutes, but got a chance to work alongside legendary center Dwight Howard in Houston last season. Donatas had to have learned a thing or two under his wing. If these guys can buy in to the team-centric system of play that won Lithuania the Silver Medal in 2013 and many other medals before that, then they got a solid shot at much more basketball glory! Not just in the upcoming World Basketball Cup in Spain, but in the next Olympics. If they cannot, and have truly been corrupted by NBA style of hero ball, then they could prove disastrous to the beautiful team-chemistry that has given a tiny country superpower status in the sport of basketball . They are now going on 3 generations of basketball dominance and the future looks bright! Let’s hope the young guns buy in, put their hand in the huddle and shout out “MES UŽ LIETUVA!”(We are for Lithuania) and really truly believe in it with all their hearts!


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