Renaldas Seibutis was once thought to be a top Lithuanian talent, a gem that would impress Europe, but his star didn’t reach the expected heights when it began to fade. Or so we thought. The versatile player was shining from an early age and already was a leader of a mid-table LKL side Sakalai at the age of 19, only a year into his professional career.
Spurred on by both the amazing performances domestically and a spectacular showing in the U20 World Championship in Argentina in 2005, the young Lithuanian received a flurry of offers from all around Europe. Already as a 20-year-old, Seibutis decided to leave Lithuania and pursue a career abroad, choosing Olympiacos Piraeus as his next destination, mostly due to an elite Lithuanian coach Jonas Kazlauskas having the reigns of the Greek club at that moment in time.
There were no obvious signs that the Lithuanian had chosen the wrong path, getting a regular share of playing time both in the Greek A1 and in Euroleague as well. And, to be fair, Seibutis statistics weren’t bad either – 6.3 points and 1.9 rebounds in Europe’s elite competition isn’t bad at all for a 20-year-old. Despite a fairly successful season, the Lithuanian was sent to Maroussi on loan in hope of faster development and was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks with the 50th pick. However, when Seibutis returned to Piraeus a year later, he didn’t look anything like his old self, warming the bench for the entire season. That’s where the player’s Greek career ended – he was still considered as a potentially very good player, but the hype that surrounded him earlier had pretty much vanished. After another two years of an up-and-down Basque adventure with Bilbao, many had written off Seibutis completely.
In the summer of 2010, the still-young player made the seemingly weakened Lithuanian national team’s roster, but wasn’t considered as much more than just another role player. To everyone’s shock, the underrated Lithuanian side surprised the whole World taking the bronze medals in the World Championship. However, it wasn’t enough to draw much attention from bigger European clubs, as Seibutis wasn’t spectacular in the tournament himself, averaging 3.4 points and 0.9 assists for the Baltic side.
It seems that everyone was already weary of the potential to production ratio that clearly had been going the wrong direction for five years now. Seibutis couldn’t secure a job in a stronger European club. It was a Turkish side – Olin that gave the Lithuanian guard a chance to prove his value once again after no one had shown the will to do so. As our Turkish basketball expert Çağrı Turhan will tell you, he has been doing very, very well:
by Çağrı Turhan / @cagriturhan
Even though the Lithuania national team is loved a lot by Turkish basketball fans, Lithuanian players that came to the Turkish League were far away from bringing the same impact. Virginijus Praskevicius and Saulius Stombergas came with great expectations to their first teams in Turkey but did not answer these expectations. At a country where fast-break, high tempo basketball is not so popular until recent years, Lithuanian players who generally don’t perform well out of the game style they are used to and this is not very surprising of course. The surprising fact, however, is the most and maybe the only successful Lithuanian performer at TBL plays for a team with a completely different style. What Renaldas Seibutis achieved looks quite ironic considering these facts.
Gokhan Tastimur is famously known as taking teams from Division II and giving them the opportunity to play at Division I next year, in addition to being the assistant coach of Ergin Ataman at Efes Pilsen’s Final Four run at 2000 and Montepaschi’s Saporta Cup championship. His current team Olin Edirne is his 8th team to have achieved that so far. He established the same system at each team he worked at, which is based on tough defense, low tempo and controlling the game. But this time, he also wants to be successful at Division I. Edirne, the city at the European border of Turkey is competing at the top level for the first time at any professional sport in its history. Therefore, this relatively small city has been completely focused on basketball since last year. Every team coming to Edirne has to make a hell of fight to escape with a victory from the arena thanks to Olin’s passionate fans. Olin Edirne fans even go further than supporting their teams for whole 40 minutes by making the visitors feel completely at a disturbing atmosphere by doing things like flashlighting opponent players at the free-throw line –which was heavily criticized by other teams in the last weeks –, quite like the worst Greek arenas you can imagine. It is not that common in Turkey for fans to travel to away games at basketball but they are going almost every game, considering the geographic position of Edirne, that’s devotion and passion.
Thracian people have their own traditions, they like to entertain with a lot and dancing. Roman and Balkan immigrant population is quite high there too. Here’s a photo and video of Seibutis and Samardziski (Macedonian center, Balkans again) celebrating a win in a Thracian way. He’s very popular there, the city likes him very much and he’s a total Edirne guy already. [You can check out Seibutis dancing right here]
Seibutis is carrying this modest-budgeted team very well so far. What is more impressive than his 18.6 points, 4.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 1.6 steals with 54.5 % from inside the arch, is his clutch time performances and playing like a real star whenever the team needs him.
Friday, they lost to Turk Telekom in Ankara. At the last possession, Seibutis was fouled while they were down by one, he was 8/8 on the line until then. He made first and missed the second, as Olin ended up losing in overtime.
His contribution to Olin’s 9-8 record is of course unarguable and he is considered as the MVP of TBL for the first 16 games. Actually, Olin, as a rookie at TBL, could have a better record if they didn’t suffer from the increasing pressure on them after their very good performances at the first games. Lithuania once more conquered the hearts of Turkish basketball fans this summer in a different way than they did before with their big hearts — as always–, teamwork and great defense. A member of that sympathetic team looks like to make his mark on Turkey in the same colors with his compatriot Vidas Ginevicius, by moving Olin Edirne to the play-offs.