By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
They started off slow, the first time Lietuvos Rytas seemed flustered all tournament. Fenerbahce Ulker came out hitting threes and attacking Rytas’ interior defense, throwing the Lithuanians off kilter. The score after the first quarter was 22-20 with Rytas in the lead, and it seemed we might have a game on our hands. Fenerbahce star guard-forward James Metecan Birsen couldn’t buy a basket but the Turkish side still was able to hang in the game.
Finally in the second quarter, Rytas started to get into the groove they had throughout this tournament where they’ve been rolling over teams. Their guards showed off their pinpoint execution and incredible control of the game. Every Rytas guard knows his role and plays it close to perfection. Tomas Galeckas is the catalyst for everything. He drops pick and roll passes at just the right moments to his bigs, is a pesky animal at the top of Rytas’ defense, and always steps up for a big shot or assist when his team is looking for an extra lift. Edvinas Seskus is the star of the bunch. A physical player who is the best guard on the team at taking guys off the dribble and cleaning up boards. Todas Jodelis is their Ray Allen. Constantly running off picks and curling into his picturesque jumper. Finally there’s Jokubas Gintvainis who finished with ten assists today and is always under control and looking to distribute.
Once these guards got comfortable, Fenerbahce had few chances to get back in the game. The lead was increased to 42-31 at the half. Fenerbahce point guard Berk Ugurlu showed some great poise running the offense, attacking open lanes when he came across them, and working to find open looks for his teammates. But even Ugurlu’s inspired play couldn’t hold off all of Rytas’ guards. His backcourt mate Umar Atin’s hot long range shooting kept Fenerbahe in the game in the first half, but he considerably cooled off after his burning start.
The second half was all Rytas from the get go. Their offense was back at full capacity with constant ball movement opening up east scoring chances for their post players and open lanes for drives or kickouts opportunities. Their best paint option, Augustinas Jankaitis, was able to finish with force and showed an advanced knowledge of go-to post moves at such a young age. In a way, he’s perfected simple.
Fenerbahce’s one big break came in the fourth quarter when Bersin caught fire and finally flashed all of the vast offense tools he possess. It was too little, too late though as a 15 point deficit going into the last quarter is too big of a mountain to climb against such a disciplined team like Rytas. In the end, the youngsters from Lithuanian claimed the championship trophy with a final score of 88-70.
There were a lot of talented teams and players at this NIJT, but no team came close to playing the type of team basketball that Rytas did. They are one of the most in control and best executing teams you will ever see on the youth level. Everyone takes pride in the role they have with the team and excels in the system put in place by the coach. This team plays well beyond their years and should be cherished as an example of how developmental youth basketball teams should turn out.
My All-Tournament Team
PG: Tomas Galeckas, Lietuvos Rytas
He’s not afraid of anyone on the court and asserted himself as the leader of the championship team. He stepped up for big shots and was a passing wizard to his interior teammates. He might not have been one of the most talented guys in the field, but he sure plays like he thinks he is.
SG: Shang Gao, Team China
Gao scored 32, 35, and 32 points in his three games. He carried this Chinese team on his back offensively at times and even though defenses continued to key on him, he continued to score. This guy is fearless with letting shots fly and needed to be rewarded.
SF: James Metecan Birsen, Fenerbahce Ulker
He can score at the rim, dime in tough passes to the paint, nail turnaround jumpers, and post guys up. Anything offensively you can think of he probably has in the tool box. If he can straighten out those decision making lulls and become more consistant, his game can grow an an exponential rate.
PF: Dario Saric, KK Zagreb
Mr. Prospect was supposed to be a shoo-in for the MVP before this thing started after he collected the award last year. Through one and half games it looked that way, but then everything went south for Zagreb. Saric is at a different talent level than everyone here but there were times where he forced his game too much and his team wasn’t able to pick him up. He was by far the most impressive guy I watched, but mentally he can get frustrated easily and needs to work on his mental game. The most amazing thing I take away from him his that his feel for the game is uncanny, he sees the floor like a seasoned point guard.
C: Augustinas Jankaitas, Lietuvos Rytas
You can’t move him out of the paint, it’s not even worth trying. Jankaitas has incredible footwork and great ability to gain post position for his age. He uses quick simply moves to over power and out maneuver his defenders. He runs the floor hard and works the offensive glass. You can’t say anything bad about this guy, he just plays the game the right way.