Credit: imago/HMB-Media - Scanpix, Fotodiena/ D.Pipas, R.Dačkus | BasketNews iliustracija/M.Didė
Credit imago/HMB-Media - Scanpix, Fotodiena/ D.Pipas, R.Dačkus | BasketNews iliustracija/M.Didė

"Good afternoon," Stevan Jelovac addressed in Lithuanian and soon extended in English. "I would like to congratulate all the fans of Zalgiris and Rytas. Best wishes to my friend Babrauskas, as well as to my good friends Gecevicius and Juskevicius. I am very happy to play with so many Lithuanians in my career."

Five years ago, Jelovac voluntarily approached BasketNews journalists, who came to the Zaragoza arena to talk to Martynas Gecevicius and Adas Juskevicius, and with a wide smile, spoke to the camera, wishing Lithuanians a happy holiday.

Stevan had a special connection with one Lithuanian. In Spain, at the request of Jelovac himself, they lived in the same room during the trips.

Five years have passed, and Sunday night, the basketball world was shaken by very bad news – Jelovac, 32, did not recover from a stroke and passed away.

BasketNews tells the story of Jelovac's stage in Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius and impressive subsequent seasons with memories of former teammates Martynas Gecevicius and Steponas Babrauskas.

Credit Fotodiena.lt/T.Lukšys

The 2.08-meter forward came to Lithuania in the 2013-14 season, when he was 24 years old. Lietuvos rytas was his third career stop abroad  before that he played in his homeland, Turkey and Italy.

The Serbian athlete quickly became friends with the Lithuanians in Lietuvos rytas, and especially – with the captain Steponas Babrauskas and Martynas Gecevicius, who gladly spent time outside the court with Jelovac.

"We had a very good connection," Babrauskas told BasketNews on Monday. "It's a pity because he was a really good person, good memories. I can only comment on the good side both as a teammate and as a friend.

He went out to dinner with Martynas and me. I was shocked to see that message. Young, 32 years old. It's a shame, but this is life."

Jelovac did not lack competition in Lietuvos rytas' frontcourt as Juan Palacios and Darius Songaila played in the team.

Lietuvos rytas won the EuroLeague qualifiers and played in the main tournament, later, they moved to the EuroCup. The Vilnius club also competed in the VTB United League, and due to the heavy load, played a shortened Lithuanian Basketball League season.

Lietuvos rytas played 76 games during the season, while Jelovac appeared in 74 of them. He averaged 6.1 points in the EuroLeague, 6.5 in the EuroCup, 8.5 in the Lithuanian Basketball League, and 8.4 points in the VTB United League.

"In Lietuvos Rytas, he may not have played so well, there was competition," said Babrauskas. "But we expected from him to play well in the future. So it was  later, he showed his potential."

Credit Fotodiena.lt/T.Lukšys

In the Vilnius club, Jelovac played the most minutes in the VTB United League – 14 minutes on average. He also recorded a similar average of minutes in other leagues (that season).

"When playing for Lietuvos rytas, he was young, and the team was stronger, he didn't get many minutes," Gecevicius told BasketNews.

Lietuvos Rytas captured first place in the regular Lithuanian Basketball League season but lost the semi-final series 1-2 to Zalgiris Kaunas. The semi-finals were reached in the VTB United League.

In the EuroLeague, Lietuvos rytas did not go through the first stage and later moved to the EuroCup, where they lost against Crvena Zvezda Belgrade in the Round of 16 stage.

In Lithuania, Jelovac had three coaches initially, the team was led by Dirk Bauermann, later he was replaced by Aleksandar Petrovic, and the season was finished with Dainius Adomaitis.

Credit Fotodiena.lt/E.Blaževičius

The Lithuanian powerhouse had signed a 1+1 contract with Jelovac, but the Serbian did not remain for the second season.

After parting ways with Lietuvos Rytas, he immediately penned a deal with CAI Zaragoza, which played in the Liga ACB.

Jelovac spent the longest time in his career there  three seasons.

In the third year, Lithuanians Adas Juskevicius and Martynas Gecevicius came to this club. The latter had become close friends with Jelovac during times in Lietuvos rytas.

When Gecevicius arrived at Zaragoza, in the same evening, Jelovac took him to dinner, showed the city, and told about the team.

"In the first evening, he showed me almost everything. He helped me a lot in Zaragoza," Gecevicius said about Jelovac's reception in Spain.

Gecevicius and Jelovac, who joined forces again, even became roommates in the away matches.

"We had a really good connection and a lot of fun moments," spoke Gecevicius. "Throughout my career, I have had the best relationship with Serbs. It was easy with him, we got along well in the room: laughed, talked about basketball and something else."

Credit Fotodiena.lt/P.Peleckis

"We were pretty good friends in Lietuvos rytas when he was young. Then we met in Spain, and it was even easier to communicate," Gecevicius added. "We were both foreigners there, so in general we spent a lot of time together we had dinner and lunch, I also got to know his father in Zaragoza. The relationship was a little closer.

I used to tell him that he was a very funny guy. Clearly, an extraordinary character on the court. Outside the floor, we got along really well. He was so positive, with laughter and joy."

In the 2016-17 season, Jelovac was the leader of the Zaragoza club. He averaged 14.3 points and 5 rebounds in the Liga ACB.

"He was a cheeky player like all Serbians. He had a character and always took the initiative," Gecevicius noted.

Jelovac addresses to Lithuanian fans (from 7:43):

After the season, Gecevicius and Jelovac's ways parted. The Serb turned to BC Nizhny Novgorod and played the best season statistically there.

Over 28 VTB United League games, he registered 20.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.6 assists.

He also played a monstrous match at the Russian club. Against BC Kalev Tallinn, Jelovac scored 49 points (8/12 2PT, 6/10 3PT, 15/17 FT), grabbed 15 boards, and accumulated 55 EFF.

49 points and 55 EFF are still VTB United League records.

Later, he played for Brose Bamberg, averaging 11.4 points in German Basketball Bundesliga, while in Tukey, Gaziantep Basketbol, Jelovac joined forces with another Lithuanian Sarunas Vasiliauskas for a year and a half.

In the 2019-20 season, he posted 15.6 points in the Turkish Basketball Super League.

"Over the years, he got a chance and successfully played in both Germany and Spain. He had a good career, was talented, bold, and really understood basketball itself," said Gecevicius about Jelovac's career.

Jelovac spent the 2020-21 campaign in the Japanese Basketball League, and this season he returned to Europe and wore an AEK Athens jersey.

In the middle of November, he suffered a stroke during training, after which he did not recover. He was later transferred to his homeland, and then AEK members psychologically began to prepare for the worst. On December 5, he passed away.

"The news was really unexpected and personally painful because we kept in touch with him, and from time to time, we communicated," Gecevicius said. "Really painful news, we had a good connection. We played together for a couple of years, we were communicating over a distance. Last time we interacted in the summer, not so much time passed. We were really good friends."

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2022-01-10
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