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FIBA U19 World Championship Preview: Lithuania

June 28th, 2011 · No Comments

One of the main favorites for the Gold Medal is of course the team from Lithuania. Simonas Baranauskas will give us his preview to the team around the Lottery pick Jonas Valanciunas.

The Lithuanians come into the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship in Latvia as one of the favorites for a medal and, perhaps, even to win the whole event. Expectations are flying high in Lithuania and the media attention that this team has been getting is somewhat amazing, as even some preparation games were televised.

All of the hype has a couple of reasons, but basically comes down to two – the fact that the team won last year’s FIBA Europe U18 Championship in Vilnius, where they drew huge crowds too, and just having such an exciting bunch of players, namely, Jonas Valanciunas.

It’s safe to say that Valanciunas, who was selected by the Toronto Raptors with the 5th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, will be Lithuania’s centerpiece and describing how much he means to the team is nearing impossible, but one other thing is often forgotten – Jonas has one mighty surrounding cast.

And that was well proved in the friendly Global Games tournament in Panevezys, where the Lithuanians dominated against Australia and Argentina even playing without their leader. Although last year’s surprise, Deividas Pukis, is still not the same after an Achilles injury, which forced him to miss the second part of last season, Lithuania’s depth doesn’t stop here.

The hard-nosed point guard Vytenis Cizauskas stepped up in the absence of the usual leaders, taking much of the responsibilities on himself and doing it very well in addition to very decent playmaking for his teammates.

And the list goes on – Dovydas Redikas, the talented wing player, who can also create for his teammates, the sharp-shooting Edgaras Ulanovas and even Zygimantas Skucas, who saved Lithuania in the semi-final against Serbia in last year’s European Championship.

For this Lithuanian team it all starts with physicality – both on defense and fighting for the boards. At most times the Lithuanians just seem bigger and stronger than their opponents. However, without Valanciunas, one key component of the team’s game was really lacking – there were hardly any pick-and-roll situations in Lithuania’s offense.

Although Valanciunas has hardly been training with the team due to his NBA issues first going to Treviso for the Adidas Eurocamp and then to USA for the actual draft, the big man adds another angle to Lithuania’s offensive game. That is in addition to just being a great player in general, who will be able to contribute a lot on the boards and also defensively, as his lack of weight and strength for the pros, doesn’t really apply at U19 level.

It will be interesting to see, whether Lithuania can repeat the same heights they reached last year, but one thing is certain – it will not be easier. First things first, as Lithuania still need to get out of the Liepaja-based Group C, which also includes Croatia, Canada and South Korea.

Lithuania’s 12-man roster: Vytenis Cizauskas, Renaldas Simanavicius, Rokas Giedraitis, Dovydas Redikas, Deividas Pukis, Edgaras Ulanovas, Arnas Butkevicius, Rolandas Jakstas, Tautyvdas Sabonis, Zygimantas Skucas, Jonas Valanciunas and Egidijus Mockevicius.

I am Simonas Baranauskas, an aspiring basketball writer, currently working for FIBA and LithuaniaBasketball.com, as well as being a co-founder of the Euro-step.net blog. You can follow me on twitter at @LithuaniaBasket.

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