It’s always good and appropriate to see Lithuania making basketball news. A country that lives and breathes this sport – whether its teams win or lose – deserves its fair share of good news. Both inside and outside its borders, Lithuania has been getting good news these days.
The last and newest, but certainly not the least, good news out of Lithuania came earlier this week, when the one and only Sarunas Jasikevius joined struggling Lietuvos Rytas, the team he started his pro career with in 1998. Like some kind of Lithuanian leprechaun, Saras arrived one day and L. Rytas won the next, its first victory of the season, even though he didn’t play until late in the game.
When a player makes a mistake – turns the ball over or misses an open shot – fans usually show their displeasure. But two types of players get away with it – legends and youngsters. The first group has earned the right to make mistakes and be forgiven. The kids get a green light to choose wrong. Starting this week, Lietuvos Rytas has both types, and the combination between the two should be very interesting to follow.
In-the-game.org – ‘Euroleague Week #5 – a step too quick’
Saras is back. Long live Saras. Sarunas Jasikevicius had 0 points, 0/2FG, 1 assist, 1 turnover and a +/- of -6 in 5,9 minutes of play, but boy were his teammates fired up by his presence! Clearly, Cibona was a welcome guest on this historical occasion, Saras’ return to Lithuania, but Rytas’ collective effort couldn’t be missed. This team will surely make another push for Top16, but they have to get Cholet out of the way, who unexpectedly ended Fenerbahce’s unbeaten start to the season behind Sammy Mejia‘s 29 points (only 2 of his 10 field goals were assisted) and a collective effort.
Week 5’s second-best performances came from Lietuvos Rytas rising star Jonas Valanciunas and Maccabi Electra swingman Chuck Eidson. Valanciunas scored 15 points on near-perfect shooting, grabbed 9 rebounds and swatted 2 shots for a 26 index rating to help L. Rytas nail its first win of the season, 90-62 over Cibona. Eidson’s index rating of 26 came with 20 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 5 steals as Maccabi smacked Asseco Prokom 99-58. Eidson, who had been the Week 1 MVP, now leads the competition with an average index rating of 18.6.
4. Jonas Valanciunas, PF-C, Lithuania Lietuvos Rytas, 6-11, 230 pounds – Scout’s take: “Very long and can go to the glass on both ends. Can score in transition; plays above the rim. Nice hands. Still needs to work on strength against bigger players in the post. Playing big minutes in Europe against men.”
5. Donatas Motiejunas, PF-C, Italy Benetton Treviso, 7-0, 215 pounds – Scout’s take: “Long left-hander who can go to the post and score. Inconsistent, but can play above the rim. Like his skill set. Needs to get stronger. Could be special in time. Game more suited for NBA than Europe with his quickness.”
The 2011 NBA All-Star Ballot was unveiled today during a special tip-off event in Los Angeles, the Official Host City of NBA All-Star 2011. Named on the ballot are Toronto Raptors centre Andrea Bargnani, guard DeMar DeRozan and forward Linas Kleiza.
Easily the most vocal part of the 12,164 announced crowd at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia were the 75 or so green and gold-clad Lithuanians cheering on Linas Kleiza from about 25 rows up behind the Raptors bench. Kleiza said it was impossible not to hear them. ‘We have the best fans in the world,’ Kleiza said of the flag-waving, Kleiza-chanting Lithuanians. And Kleiza wasn’t even aware there was such a big Lithuanian community in Philly. ‘I know we have a lot bigger community in Chicago, but that was great,’ Kleiza said.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas also was there. You can’t like sports and not love Z. You can’t be from Cleveland and not love him. The Cavs drafted him in 1996, a seven-foot-three Lithuanian with a sweet jumpshot and a puss straight outta Pixar. The bones in both feet started cracking early in his NBA career; he was sidelined for three entire seasons. Z had a $70 million contract — he could’ve limped away and retired a wealthy young man.
But Z loved the game and Cleveland, too — not so different a town from Kaunas, his home — and he’s a man of dignity, honor, and integrity; “loyalty” is more than a tattooed lie to Ilgauskas. He suffered through multiple surgeries on each foot, rehabbed even after everyone had written him off, and finished his career in Cleveland as the most beloved of Cavs.
Saturday’s insertion of Zydrunas Ilgauskas into the starting lineup provided that space, with the veteran center opening the court for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with the threat of his silky midrange shot.
In shooting 6 of 7 for 12 points in Saturday’s 109-100 victory over the Toronto Raptors, Ilgauskas not only improved his shooting percentage to a career-best .627 but also scored eight more points than previous starting center Joel Anthony had scored in any game this season.
As for Omar? After an encouraging stint with the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA summer league, Samhan signed a contract with Zalgiris Kaunus, a club in Lithuania. There’s a decent chance Samhan gets a few more NBA looks — he definitely made an impression on a handful of GMs this summer — but for now, he’s getting paid to play hoops in Eastern Europe. There are worse fates. (And let’s hope Omar has been brushing up on his Lithuanian, so he can be the funniest basketball player on two continents, and not just one.)