Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
When it comes to basketball, Lithuanians are hard to beat – both on court and off it, when giving insights on the game. Perhaps that is the reason why with the silver medals hanging on the basketballers’ necks, coach Jonas Kazlauskas, sounded like apologizing on live TV for failing to grab gold in France, where the Eurobasket 2015 was held.
Still, the silver won in Lille, France, has set off a wave of patriotism across the country.
The Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaitė, did not miss her chance too to stoke the nation’s patriotic feelings during the reward ceremony in the presidential palace.
With its commencement late – it appeared Jonas Valančiūnas, the forward star, got stuck in the traffic after his car’s tyre went flat on the way Daukantas Square – the President, perhaps, was ready to shuffle her busy schedule to see the forward and joyously mingled among the costume-clad sportsmen- all waiting for Valančiūnas.
The state-of-head called the national team’s performance «incredible» and noted that Lithuania wins when it, as a nation, works together.
«Assisting one another and exhibiting unity and tenacity you won the title of Europe’s runner-ups in basketball. Your example inspires all Lithuania to joint its strengths and win,» the President, all gleaming, told in the award ceremony.
Valančiūnas has apologized to her for being late and hoped it has not caused «any problem».
Oh, forget it, Jonas! You rule and your buddies rule Lithuania this week!
To remind one, Lithuania has reached the final of the Eurobasket championship, where it was beaten by a mighty Spain.
In the qualification, held in Riga, Lithuania had edged out Estonians, Czechs, and Ukrainians, but lost to Belgians and breathed by Latvians.
Each player pocketed a little over six thousand euros from the state prize of 69 500 euros for the second place in the championship -it was divided among the players, coaches, medical personnel and other staff.
Before swarming the presidential quarters, the players were greeted by thousands of frenzy-engulfed hoops fans at the Town Hall.
«Frankly, the game was very shaky and nail-biter throughout the tournament, but that the team would manage pull off victories it does show its character and stamina,» tells Arvydas Dočkus, the first coach of Renaldas Seibutis, the shooting guard of the team.
Lithuania has raised the cup of European basketball champions already three times: back in 1937, 1939 and, recently, in 2013.
In the European championship in Slovenia back in 2013, Lithuania also ended second, losing to France in the finals.
Two silver medals in the consecutive championships is a great accomplishment. As Jonas Maciulis, one of the tournament’s heroes, put it: «Being so small territorially, Lithuania is second in Europe in basketball. That’s great!»
But Lithuania is so used to the national team’s gains in the international arena, that the back-to-back failure in the final makes made some upset than joyful over.
As if with that in mind, Kazlauskas, the coach, called the achievement «big», but admitted he was feeling «kind of sad.»
«We wanted something more, frankly. It is a pity that the final was not our day,» he confessed with the cameras rolling.
Having made it to the final, Lithuania secured a slot in the Olympic Games in Brazil next year.
Quite a feat, believes Šarūnas Jasikevičius, a legendary basketball player and, now, coach of basketball club
«I was impressed with the fighter spirit the men have shown. At some moments it seemed that the team will not get to the highest places, but that is why the Lithuanian basketball school strong and famous for: it never gives up…I believe they (players) have squeezed out the maximum,» Jasikevičius praised the players.
Especially happy he was that the team has clinched the finals, automatically securing a spot in the Olympics.
«Now our best players will be able to have a good time on the beach instead of globetrotting the world and playing selection tournaments,» Jasikevičius quipped.
Kazlauskas agrees, noting that many powerful teams, including France, Serbia, Croatia, Turkey, Germany and Canada, with its nine players in the NBA, will be jostling for the Olympic tickets.
The best hoops experts call Lithuania already now as one of the most likely candidates to win Olympic medals in Rio.
«The national team of Lithuania will certainly be led by Jonas Valančiūnas (forward of the Toronto Raptors) and Donatas Motiejūnas (forward of Houston Rockets). The two each other excellently supplementing opposites will be a duo hard to stop for any contender, even to the United States,» Tamberlyn Richardson, a basketball expert from Spacecityhoop.com, writes in her blog.
She praises Valančiūnas for the performance with rebounds and complimented D-Mo- that is how US basketball media calls Motiejūnas- for his ball dribbling, good shooting and on-court body language.
«Because of these reasons Lithuania can fight for the highest rewards in Rio,» the hoops analyst is convinced.
Not only her, but also people quite far from basketball showered the basketballers with praise and provided in-depth insights on the game.
For example, Ramūnas Vilpišauskas, professor of political sciences and director of the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences at Vilnius University,tried to puzzle out what was the team’s secret for what many see as overachievement.
«How to explain that the Lithuanian squad has finally achieved a whole lot more than the basketball experts had predicted- beating teams higher in the rankings and seen as the favorites?» the professor asked rhetorically in the article published by delfi.lt
Trying to come up with an answer for that, he employed academic terms.
«Alike in analyzing international relations and team management, performance of basketball teams can be evaluated as interaction of separate groups of individuals and organizational combinations,” the scholar pondered, but noted that “individual factors do not alter significantly over a couple of weeks with a championship under the way.»
«Social sciences provide some interesting insights in the regard. Coach Kazlauskas has mentioned that the players were tense in the beginning of the championship… From the psychological point of view, the breaking point has been the game with Italians,» believes the well-known political -analyst-turned-basketball-expert.
Last but not least is strategic behaviorism, he believes.
«Its essence is about conscientious organization of the Lithuanian team’s game- the team was not revealing entire information when playing and it seemed that it was modelling next game while on the court. Simply speaking, the coaches have deliberately organized the team’s game so that easy wins was not on the agenda- making it fight on the brink of defeat,» Vilpišauskas writes.
But for Dočkus, the coach, the success is about more mundane things- traditions, hard work and smart decisions.
«Indeed, perhaps many had written off the team yet before the championship. But it, virtually a new team, has proved that it contains all the best virtues that Lithuanian basketball has been known for long. We definitely stand a good chance in Rio,» Dočkus told BNN.
When he, also a humble teacher of physical training at a secondary school in Palanga, the resort on the Lithuanian coast, wanted to stretch volleyball net for his six-grade girls, they grabbed his hands.
«Teacher, we don’t want to play volleyball anymore – we want to play basketball from now,» they asked.
And Dočkus gave up.
Who would not?