European Prospects

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A generation of Gold, even without their star

July 22nd, 2012 · No Comments

The Lithuanian 1992 generation is one of the most successful ever in Europe. It all started with the Olympic Youth Festival in 2007 where the team from the Baltic country won the Gold Medal in the U15 category. They won the Gold Medal in 2008 in the U16 category where they dominated the tournament massively and won all their games by an average margin of 25 points. In 2010, they won Gold as well in the U18 category by beating every opponent again. In 2011, they crowned their age group by winning the U19 World Championship in Riga. The main prospect of that generation was Jonas Valanciunas who in between is a member of the Senior National Team and signed an NBA contract this summer. But even without their big guy, this generation knows nothing else than success.

The team played its first major championship without their superstar in Slovenia this summer. The expectations were not extremely high as most observers thought that Valanciunas was the main driver of the success. Lithuania had a bad start with two defeats against Italy and Slovenia and could only reach the second phase because of a short win over Sweden. The team play was not there yet and some of the players struggled to increase their role in the absence of the future Toronto Raptor.

In the second phase, the results were still marked by major ups and downs as Lithuania crashed Spain and Turkey by nearly 20 points while they lost against Latvia. It was however enough to finish second in the group but only because of the point differential. In fact, in the case of a Slovenian loss in the last game against Spain, Lithuania would not even have made it to the Quarterfinal as their big win over the Spaniards would not have counted in the multi-team tie. This helped them to meet Greece in the Quarter-Finals who were the weakest team in the round of the last 8 and won it easily. In the semi-finals, Lithuania won against Serbia with more effort and the 92 generation reached its third Final in their 3rd European Championship.

Lithuania started the Final a lot better than the French team. Vytenis Cizauskas ran the Point Guard close to perfection scoring 7 points and handing out 4 assists in the first ten minutes. France looked scared by the pressure and turned the ball over too often and took bad shots. Cizauskas on the other hand found his cutters so well and Egidijus Mockevicius slammed the big one down just before the first break. In the second quarter, the Baltic team had a lot more problems as they remained scoreless for long minutes and gave France the possibility to cut the lead from 13 to 5. But the heart of a champion came back when Dovydas Redikas and his team mates could find back their scoring on the break and from behind the arc to lead 36-24 at halftime.

The second half started like the first one as Lithuania ran the fast break to perfection and created a lot of easy baskets. Despite playing without a real center, Lithuania had scored at that moment 24-10 points in the paint. France changed their defense to a 2-3 zone and Lithuania struggled to find good openings in the paint. France could reduce the gap to 7 points with only the second basket of Leo Westermann who was well guarded by the Lithuanian defense until then. Before the last quarter, the 92 generation from Lithuania was close to win their next Gold Medal, but the first one without their main star.

Lithuania continued to struggle on offense in the beginning of the last quarter against the French zone and collected a 3-18 run over the third and beginning of the fourth quarter. The score was tied and they could only find the basket after a perfectly executed play out of a timeout. But when the score was close to fall in favor of France, Lithuania found their shooting touch back and Arnas Butkevicius put his team up again by 6 points. France resisted and found their big man Rudy Gobert on the lob pass as Lithuania had nobody to match the French big guy’s length. But the Gold Medal was still at reach as Cizauskas and his team mates were ahead going to the last two minutes of the game. Westermann tied the game at the 30 seconds mark but Zygimantas Skucas managed to draw a foul. He could only score one to bring his team up 50-49 with 14 seconds on the clock. Westermann, the clutch player of the French team was however unable to find a solution against the Lithuanian defense and Edgaras Ulanovas, the man for the dirty job, steals the ball and gives his generation the fifth Gold Medal. WOW!

All-Tournament Team

  • Leo Westermann (France) – MVP
  • Klemen Prepelic (Slovenia)
  • Edgaras Ulanovas (Lithuania)
  • Daniel Diez (Spain)
  • Rudy Gobert (France)

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