By guest blogger Simonas Baranauskas of LithuaniaBasketball.com
Wounded – check. Young – check. Inexperienced – check. No playmaker – check. Overlooked by experts – check. What else are we missing? If you just convinced the Lithuanian basketball federation to play without a coach, the list would be complete – a perfect route to disaster… However, I do have to disappoint you and spoil the tragic eeriness about the Lithuanian national team’s chances in the World Championship in Turkey – they will still be dangerous, put a check right across that box! Twice the size of the earlier ones!
I’d like to admit that at the time when one after another top Lithuanian baller began flopping out of the Worlds, I saw no point for the Lithuanian team to go to Turkey all together. All of this felt like it was a waste of the FIBA wildcard that the country had received or, technically speaking, bought for €500,000 – nothing comes for free nowadays.
At one point I really thought to myself that I’d rather be talking about cheese than the Lithuanian national team. And I do love mozzarella…
No matter how strong my love for mozzarella was, I’ve been proven wrong once again. I don’t know how well the team will do in Turkey, but I know one thing – the sleeping beauty has finally been woken up after sleeping right though the Eurobasket ‘09 in Poland last year.
The team has shown its new face – more speed, more hip – they finally played on the court rather than laboring those damned forty minutes. Most of this has to do with the new mindset coach Kęstutis Kemzūra has brought into the team.
The previous team was divided into two groups of players – guards who shoot threes and bigs who shoot threes. Oh and there’s Mantas Kalnietis who sat on the bench – make that three groups.
The Lithuanian Coach K (double the K of Mike Krzyzewski - take that team USA!) has taken advantage of the fact that everyone in the team except for the rim-stuffing team captain Robertas Javtokas can shoot from downtown but isn’t pushing matters over the limits – the bigs have got to be where they belong and do what they’re supposed to - set screens, play pick’n’roll and provide an inside presence.
Even Paulius Jankunas, who usually likes to set up a camp by the three-point line, has been playing inside more than before. Coach Kemzura didn’t have any preconceptions about the players and allowed each and every one to prove their worth – some didn’t succeed and were cut off.
Saying good-bye to Donatas Motiejunas was probably made more scandalous than it should’ve been – the kid doesn’t have the strength to compete against men and let’s be frank – he doesn’t have a clue how to play on defense and has not rebounding skills whatsoever.
Coach Kemzura took away what would’ve definitely been eye-candy from the scouts, the fans – everyone who is in some way related to the NBA. However, this might be a good thing for Motiejunas, because sometimes less is more. You could look at it this way – he avoided a chance to screw up with the whole World watching and has received a signal that he still has a lot to work on.
I really don’t want to go into players individually but leaving Kleiza unmentioned will be unfair. He is the best player in the squad and will be the key to Lithuania having a successful tournament. With that said, let me tell you one thing if you’re a Raptor fan – Turkoglu wasn’t that bad. Kleiza seems to have the same character problems and his visible lack of effort spelled nothing other than disaster in a couple of previous tournaments. I don’t know if things have changed in that department – we’ll see.
Lithuania currently has a 14-man roster and the time coach Kemzura is going to have to make a final decision is coming closer and closer – who might the two unlucky guys be?
This would be my answer – there are currently five shooting guards in the rotation – Martynas Gecevicius is going for sure and has the melody of Can’t Touch This ringing in his ears and Tomas Delininkaitis looks to have guaranteed himself a place in the final twelve with his solid performances throughout the friendly game marathon.
In my personal opinion, that leaves Mindaugas Lukauskis, Renaldas Seibutis and the most lovable chap from the team Marty Pocius to fight for one final seat on the plane to Turkey. However, there’s still one other option that could mix up the cards.
If coaches decided to take Delininkaitis as a point guard and therefore left Arvydas Eitutavičius at home, this would mean that two of the previously mentioned three players could make the cut. And that’s what I’d want to happen as Eitutavičius hasn’t showed up in any of the friendly games so far and it’s highly doubtful he will any time soon - he’d just be a waste of space. Luckily for Arvydas, going to the WC with one proper point guard would be too much of a risk so I’d assume we’ll see him in Izmir.
Given the fact that team Lithuania doesn’t have a player who can get to the rim, I’d take Pocius – he had some very good performance of the bench and was just sparkling with energy on the court. Broke some ankles as usual, exploded to the hoop at every opportunity – not a typical Lithuanian player.
We all know Marty is a bit streaky and inconsistent but all he would be there to do is bring some energy off of the bench – nothing less, nothing more. The Lithuanian team needs more options and that’s what Pocius can bring to the table. At least I think so…
I don’t usually like stories with happy endings and I’m not saying this will be the case – but I’ve at least been given hope by a side I had put off without even seeing the guys play. At the time you’re reading this, they might have gotten spanked by Spain and USA but I’ve still got hope – maybe not to take a medal but just play decent basketball that is enjoyable and fun to watch.
And if things don’t go all that well – you’ll still remember Lithuania. If not for the team’s performance on the courts of Turkey than for the noisy and colorful Lithuanian fans in the stands!