Credit: FIBA Media
Credit FIBA Media

BasketNews returns with a series of articles about recognized basketball countries that have been underperforming for the past few years. We have already recapped the struggles of basketball in Greece and the state of Croatian basketball. Today - Lithuania's turn and their upcoming changes.

Points this season

Points made: 86,3
Accuracy: 52,0%
Place in standings: 7
Record max: 96
Record min: 76
Best scorer: Jonas Valančiūnas

The Lithuanian National Team lost to Slovenia on their home turf in the Olympic Qualification Tournament and will not compete in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. This snapped the second-longest streak of Olympic appearances, dating back to 1992, and trailing only the United States. However, after seven Olympic appearances in a row, the Baltic country will have the rest of the summer off. Perhaps it's a good time to review what's next for the former three-time Olympic bronze medalists.

Credit FIBA

Who will be the new leader of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation?

Major changes are on the horizon for Lithuanian basketball. It all starts from outside the court. After completing two terms as the President of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation, NBA Hall-of-Famer Arvydas Sabonis will step down and vacate his duties. On September 7, the basketball community will elect new leadership. At the moment, there are three candidates to take the throne.

The first one is a retired player Robertas Javtokas. Javtokas was a long-time National Team captain and Zalgiris Kaunas player. He spent the last four years working as a sports director for Zalgiris. Javtokas has a retired Lithuanian NT coach Jonas Kazlauskas in his corner. Kazlauskas is the last coach who managed to lead the national team to medals (silver in 2015 EuroBasket).

The second candidate is a basketball expert and a former head coach of the Lithuanian NT Ramunas Butautas. Butautas has Arvydas Sabonis on his side. There have been talks that Sabonis would become a vice president if Butautas were elected.

Credit FIBA

The final candidate is a politician, ex-coach of the Lithuanian Women's NT, and president of the Lithuanian Basketball Coaches Association, Vydas Gedvilas. A lot depends on the election because the new Lithuanian Basketball Federation leadership will appoint the next head coach of the national team.

Who will be the new coach for Lithuania?

After the loss to Slovenia, coach Darius Maskoliunas stepped down from his duties. Maskoliunas was appointed for the position in November of 2019. Before leading the team in the OQT, Maskoliunas helped Lithuania qualify for the 2022 EuroBasket. However, the squad did lose games to Belgium and Denmark - countries that are not considered basketball powerhouses, to say the least. Lithuania only managed to qualify for the tournament after a nail-biting victory over Denmark in the last game.

Credit FIBA

Maskoliunas was never the first option to take over the NT reigns. Fans would have liked to see his colleague from FC Barcelona, Sarunas Jasikevicius, take on the coaching role. However, Saras said that coaching the NT did not interest him, and his focus was directed at coaching in the EuroLeague. Perhaps the new president of the Basketball Federation will be able to convince Jasikevicius to coach the NT?

Another highly-regarded candidate is Kazys Makskvytis. He was the head coach of Lithuania's youth National Teams that went on to win the 2008 U16 European Championship, the 2010 U18 European Championship, the 2011 U20 World Championship, and the 2012 U20 European Championship. Maksvytis had current national team players Jonas Valanciunas, Edgaras Ulanovas, Arnas Butkevicius, and Rokas Giedraitis on his youth squads. Therefore, fans have been curious if the coach's success in youth basketball would translate into the big leagues. Maksvytis was close to taking on the role of the senior NT in 2019. However, his contract with Parma Basket prevented him from coaching Lithuania. There have been reports that Maksvytis re-signed with Parma but included an option in his new deal that would allow him to coach NT.

There could be other coaches in the conversation of becoming the new voice for Lithuania. Among them is Rimas Kurtinaitis, the ex-coach of Khimki Moscow Region. Kestutis Kemzura, who led Lithuania to bronze medals in the 2010 World Cup, is also a viable option.

Apart from these coaches, there aren't many Lithuanian specialists that could be considered for the NT. Only Jasikevicius and his fellow Lithuanian coaching staff work at the highest European level - EuroLeague. Not to mention, there are no Lithuanian specialists currently working in the EuroCup or Basketball Champions League.

This leads us to a major problem that Lithuanian basketball is dealing with. Many believe that the Basketball Federation doesn't do enough to help produce coaches of the highest caliber. We had seen what happened in 2019 when the primary candidates to coach the NT refused or were unable to take the job - coach Maskoliunas was chosen for the job and proved that he was not ready for it. Lithuanian fans can only hope that the new basketball leadership will emphasize coaches and their education.

What reserves does Lithuania have?

Lithuania came into the OQT with a strong roster. They had their leaders Jonas Valanciunas and Domantas Sabonis, as well as Marius Grigonis, Mantas Kalnietis, Rokas Giedraitis, and others. However, the team still has room for improvement.

Credit FIBA

Ignas Brazdeikis headlines the list of the most notable reserves. After a successful season with the Michigan Wolverines, Brazdeikis was selected 47th overall in the 2019 NBA Draft. He has spent the last two seasons trying to find a role in the NBA. After almost two years with the New York Knicks, Brazdeikis finished last season as a member of the Orlando Magic. Brazdeikis showed potential as he averaged 11.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in eight games with the Magic.

After being born in Kaunas, Lithuania, Brazdeikis and his parents moved to Canada. There, he was granted Canadian Nationality, thereby losing the status of a Lithuanian citizen. However, Brazdeikis expressed his wish to represent Lithuania on the international stage and regained Lithuanian citizenship this year. He was invited to the national team training camp but decided to spend the summer getting ready for the upcoming NBA season. The 22-year-old swingman will likely join the NT next summer in preparation for the 2022 EuroBasket. Brazdeikis' strength and versatility would definitely enhance the Lithuanian backcourt and relieve some pressure off Valanciunas and Sabonis.

Another big name that missed the OQT was Arturas Gudaitis. The center was having a great season with Zenit St Petersburg before suffering an injury in Zenit's first playoff game against FC Barcelona. Gudaitis planned on joining the Lithuanian NT this summer but was unable to recover in time.

The same goes for long-time Zalgiris Kaunas and Lithuanian NT forward Edgaras Ulanovas. He spent last year with Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul. However, Ulanovas was bothered by a hip injury for most of the season and was not ready for action this summer.

Coach Darius Maskoliunas took a lot of heat after cutting forward Tadas Sedekerskis from this year's NT. After a great run with TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz, Sedekerskis was considered by many a lock to play for the NT. Fans and basketball experts were expecting him to guard Luka Doncic in the OQT. However, Maskoliunas and his coaching staff had different plans. In hindsight, it would have been interesting to see how big and strong Sedekerskis would've matched against Luka. Perhaps the next coach will be able to incorporate Sedekerskis into the squad.

A few young Lithuanian players are also on the brink of making it to the NT. One of them is Detroit Pistons' Deividas Sirvydis. The 2.03 sharpshooter was selected 37th in the 2019 NBA Draft and spent his first season in the NBA. Even though the 21-year-old did not see much playing time, there are no doubts about his potential to become a key piece in the Lithuanian NT.

Another player that could be invited into the next NT tryouts is Azuolas Tubelis. The 19-year-old athletic power forward played his first season in the NCAA. The 2.10 big man was a member of the Arizona Wildcats. He averaged 12.2 points and 7.1 rebounds over 26.5 minutes. Tubelis could be an answer to the scarce rotation at the power forward position for Lithuania.

In previous years, Lithuanian youth National Teams dominated their international competition. They were exceptional from 2006 to 2016 when at least one medal set has been won every year (except for 2014). However, during the last five years, Lithuanian youth teams could only bring home one bronze medal set (2017 European Championship). In 2019, Lithuania dropped to the fifth position after being ranked as high as second in the FIBA Youth World Rankings. Since the youth teams have not been performing well, it makes sense to assume that the national team cannot expect suitable reinforcements either.

With both the junior and senior Lithuanian National Teams suffering title droughts for the past few years, as well as missing the Olympics for the first time in 29 years, the future may look bleak. However, Lithuania has no talent shortage, and there will be plenty of chances to show it during the next few years. Hopefully, the newly-elected leadership of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation will be able to attract the best players and coaches to turn the team's luck back around.

I think that Lithuanians should root for Brazdeikis/Jokubaitis/Sirvydis success. If they are able to reach their potential, I think Lithuania will be a different team and will go back to its 2003-2008 strength.
Problem with Lithuania is that they have excellent pool of talented players, but no game-changing guard. No Bogdanovic, Doncic, Mills or someone like that. Sabonis is exceptional player, but he is limited in FIBA and can only be an additional piece for winning the tournaments. Valanciunas is offensive powerhouse, but very limited on defence. And they are both centers, centers do not win competition these days. As far as the guards go, Lithuania is not that good, there is only Grigonis and he is only an Euroleague B+ player, nothing more.
Velicka, Giedraitis, Kulboka, Sirvydis, Brazdeikis, Tubelis.. Theres plenty of fish in the pool, some could say that Lithuania NT might have a good mix of experience, quality, talent and youth for the next few years
Kulboka might be interesting candidate for future NT
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