Sabonis and the media, maybe nobody’s right

Lithuania legend Arvydas Sabonis announced he and coach Joas Kazlauskas would be leaving the national team set up. Emmet Ryan says there’s no right or wrong way to react.

Beneath the 7ft frame of a giant lies a man. Forget the Olympic success, the triumphs in Europe and the NBA. Ignore, if you can, his status as a living legend and hall of famer. Focus just on the fact that for all of the great things we know about Arvydas Sabonis, we still don’t know all that much about him as a person. We don’t know what makes him tick. Remember that when you look at the comments he made on Tuesday.

As reported by Simonas Barauskas, Sabas is leaving the Lithuanian national team set up. So too is Jonas Kazlauskas. This announcement, while expected, came after Lithuania made it all the way to the final of EuroBasket for the first time in a decade. Sabonis said the duo were stepping down because of intense pressure from the media and asked the press to be more gentle going forward.

As a journalist, this kind of argument is hard to stomach. The most fundamental talent we have is reporting on the talents of others. Sabas knows this and has been in the crosshairs for the guts of three decades. The split will be easy. Many will side with the legend and criticise the media for bringing too much heat. Just as many will contend he should be able to handle it, indeed I posited as much in this paragraph. Yet perhaps we should look at it from a third perspective.

Maybe both sides are as right as they are wrong.

Few journalists get up in the morning looking to bring stress or pain to people. It’s part of the job sometimes but those that actually relish inflicting suffering are a small and sick breed. I’ve certainly met some but the vast majority are regular people with regular problems and are fairly reasonable. Likewise few ballers actually buy into the mythos built by the media. Most of them are, admittedly often wealthy, regular folk too. The idea of someone writing and reporting on their every act may be an occupational hazard but that doesn’t mean they have to like it.

So what of Sabas? Clearly the heat of working in one of the most pressured environments in basketball wasn’t what he wanted. Kazlauskas had led Lithuania back to the top table, Sabonis was by his side, yet still the scrutiny remained because that, quite frankly, is our job.

He may very well be right in saying it’s because of the media that he left but that’s no fault of the fourth estate. Sabas and Kazlauskas had their fill, got far , and decided they were both better off elsewhere. We only talk about it because of the profile of the jobs but fundamentally this was a case of two men thinking about their work-life balance. Time to up sticks, find something different.

As for the being gentle comment, hey the dudes did a good job. I’ve thick enough skin to let it slide and the rest of the media should too.


Podcast: Lots of talk on Lithuanian basketball; musing about Euroleague, Lakers, Timberwolves; loving Jennifer Lawrence

Taking the Charge, episode 20: Lithuanian basketballEpisode #20 of the heinnews/BallinEurope co-produced Taking the Charge podcast is now available online. This week, that hardworking David Hein and yours truly natter on a bit about recent Euroleague developments (poor, poor Maccabi Tel Aviv!), the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Los Angeles Lakers before finally finding some focus in Lithuania.

As BiE continuously says, something’s always happening in Lithuanian basketball and recent times are no exception. Freelance hoops writer/BallinEurope agent in Lietuva, Karolis Jankus gives us a little inside dope on topics including:

Zalgiris Kaunas and the strange culture of losing theorized about on BallinEurope earlier in the week;

Team Lithuania head coach Jonas Kazlauskas and the strange events which led to his current gig in the CBA with Boss Wang’s Guangdong Southern Tigers;

• Lithuania Basketball Federation secretary-general Mindaugas Balčiūnas, currently under house arrest while prosecutors “are carrying out a pre-trial investigation into alleged jobbery, fraud, document forgery and [...] illegal use of municipal funds for the reconstruction of the Hotel Romantic” in connection with Eurobasket 2011;

• the perhaps unfairly languishing Donatas Motiejunas, who at least must be praised for attitude and work ethic while running up the DNPs; and

Lietuvos Rytas’ recent victory in its Nike Invitational Junior Tournament bracket, tourney MVP Edvinas Seskus and other Lithuanian prospects.

And our sports movie review of the week is all about the Academy Award-nominated film Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper, Chris Tucker, Robert DeNiro and Jennifer Lawrence (swoon). Tangentially related to sport at best (Philadelphia Eagles worship colors the reels), hey, it still has Jennifer Lawrence.

The entire podcast may be heard here. Thanks for listening and talk to you next week!

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Jonas Kazlauskas vs. Dusan Ivkovic: Euroleague history will be made

It’s a trivia question with an expiration date – and that date is tomorrow. To wit: “Which head coach holds the record for longest time between Euroleague titles?”

For the next, what, 26 hours or so, the answer is “Alexander Gomelsky.” Most well-known as the Team USSR coach, the Naismith/FIBA Hall of Famer took the Euroleague title in 1960 with ASK Riga and would return to take the championship with CSKA Moscow in ’71.

But this year’s matchup of CSKA and Olympiacos automatically changes that. Featuring coaches Jonas Kazlauskas and Dusan Ivkovic, the record will be rewritten at tomorrow night’s Euroleague championship. Kazlauskas was handed an all-star lineup with Moscow this year to return to his first EL Final Four – never mind the championship game – since 1999; in that season, he brought a Žalgiris squad which included the likes of George Zidek, Thomas Masiulis, Saulius Štombergas and Tyrus Edney to the top.

And though Ivkovic has been more of a presence in Euroleague play since the 90s, the coach’s title drought is even longer than that of Kazlauskas, having taken the championship with Olympiacos back in the Reds’ only triple crown season of 1997.

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Eclipse watching: All-time records under threat at Euroleague Final Four 2012

Siskauskas seeks title, free throws

For all the history/stat junkies out there – including myself, as BiE readers know – BallinEurope today takes a look at what all-time Euroleague Final Four records might fall this year … and some that seem unbreakable.

• Under assault could be the all-time free-throw mark of 56 held by Nikos Galis. Galis set this individual mark in just four games in the 1988 and 1990 tournaments with Aris BC and Panathinaikos, respectively, in performances that set all sorts of EL Final Four marks. However, Ramunas Siskauskas has amassed 45 over the years with PAO and CSKA Moscow; at an average of four trips to the FT line per game in 2011-12 Euroleague play, Siskauskas could squeak into the record books in 2012 – and he’s currently a bit better in accuracy than Galis was, at 78.6% to 74.6%.

• Now 34 years old and the senior member of a seriously veteran-laden Panathinaikos team, Mike Batiste doesn’t have too much time left to run up his numbers. While his 41 two-pointers are a far cry from Galis’ ridiculous 87, the Arizona State University alum could jump from his current no. 9 standing on the EL Final Four all-time two-pointer table to no. 4, passing Dejan Bodiroga with just six more buckets. After that, the targets would be no. 3 Theo Papaloukas’ 53 and no. 2 David Andersen’s 57.

• Batiste is also 17 rebounds behind Matjaz Smodis’ lifetime mark of 73; Viktor Khryapa may be destined to become no. 1 before all is said and done, with 54 to his credit already.

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Kemzura releases extended Team Lithuania roster: No to Lavrinovic brothers, yes to Kleiza

Kleiza gets the call

National head coach Kestutis Kemzura has released his list of 18 candidates who could be suiting up for Team Lithuania in the 2012 Olympic qualifiers and beyond. On paper at least, the selection looks pretty good – particularly compared to the Eurobasket 2011 version of the team which included a single true no. 3 after a few early injuries took their toll. The squad includes four players from Lietuvos Rytas and five currently with Zalgiris Kaunas; among the lot, too, are five others from 2011-12 Euroleague teams and one (yes, Linas is back) from the NBA.

Notable exclusions include Darius Songalia plus Kšyštof and Darjus Lavrinovič; Songalia’s spot on the preliminary roster was filled with Mindaugas Katelynas of Lietuvos Rytas, while CSKA Moscow head coach Jonas Kazlauskas reportedly wanted Darjus to stay home and rest up this summer anyway.

On board is the young sensation Canada wants to see in Jonas Valanciunas; returning after absences in the 2011 FIBA tourney are Linas Kleiza and Jonas Maciulis; and, though he’s been remarkably tight-lipped about yet another return to the national team, good ol’ Sarunas Jasikevicius is penciled in as well.

Below runs the prospective 18; how do you like Lietuva’s chances?

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Not exactly “no basketball anymore”: Notes on 34 pan-European games

“No basketball anymore”? Are you serious? The next two days will see some 34 games played out in the top three European basketball competitions: Euroleague, EuroCup and FIBA Eurochallenge.

Below, BallinEurope presents some links, highlight clips and like on some of the competing teams starring Igor Rakocevic, Tiago Splitter, D.J. Strawberry and that Williams guy, among others. O, if only BiE had time to properly cover all this basketball … sorry, the NB-what?

• Rod Higgins of the Basketball Post provides much food for thought going into Montepaschi Siena’s game against Unics Kazan on how Igor Rakocevic affects the Italian side’s game plan: Has Ferdinando Minucci sacrificed trademark defensive trickery at the cost of a faster game with another shooter?

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Rumor du jour: Pocius to move to Moscow next season?

Could Martynas “Air” Pocius soon be flying to Russia? Talk Basket today supposes that not only will CSKA Moscow rebuild after a relatively poor season for the Red Army (not surprising), but that new Lithuanian head coach Jonas Kazlauskas is actively pursuing acquiring Pocius’ services for CSKA in the 2011-12 season.

Pocius’ obligation to current club Zalgiris Kaunas ends with this season, but two more option years exist on his deal with the Greens. Most recently, Pocius contributed seven points in 20 minutes of court time in Zalgiris’ 75-67 win over VEF Riga to take the Baltic Basketball League title.

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Brutal week for Greek basketball capped with 80-72 loss to Spain

Ευχαριστώ για τις αναμνήσεις, Δημήτρη!

Hell of a week for Hellas basketball on both international and national league fronts…

Team Greece was bounced from the 2010 FIBA World Championship by Spain last night in an improved showing from the Russia game, which had Ioannis Bourousis and Vassilis Spanoulis calling out for a little respect from the fans in the aftermath.

And now, with the Spain game (and, for Greece, the 2010 championship) history, bad news is following rapidly. Dimitris Diamantidis announced directly after the loss that he’d be retiring from the national team, effective immediately: “The game with Spain was my last,” Diamantidis declared.

The future of coach Jonas Kazlauskas with the team is also in doubt, as his contract has expired and no overtures have been made to the Lithuanian. In analyzing the tournament, Kazlauskas stated that he “saw a lot of mistakes, [and] some things we did wrong.” He went on to cite the punishments of Antonis Fotsis and Sofoklis Schortsanitis, plus the wrist injury Bourousis played through as further detriments to the team’s success in the 2010 Worlds.

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Greece vs. Russia: He who wins shall lose?

Rosie knows it

“Sometimes when you win, you really lose. And sometimes when you lose, you really win. And sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic globule, from which one extracts what one needs.” – Gloria Clemente, White Men Can’t Jump

Congratulations go out from BallinEurope to Teams USA, Turkey and Lithuania for getting tickets punched into the knockout tournament as VIP no. 1 seeds. And while the Argentina-Serbia battle tonight to determine how Group A shakes out should be a dandy, the one to watch – particularly if you’re a FIBA official or conspiracy theorist – will be Russia vs. Greece.

In what is definitely a case of “he who wins shall lose,” the no. 2 seed in Group C will face what appears to be the most difficult path to the championship game in the bracket. Assuming Team Spain handles winless Canada, the winner of tonight’s Russia-Greece contest would first draw Espana as no. 3 seed in Group D in the “eight finals,” followed by (Team USA) the winner of USA vs. Angola/Australia.

The loser of Russia-Greece would get a bracket that includes an opening game against France followed by the winner of Argentina vs. Brazil/Croatia – while hardly an easy road, which do you think David Blatt and Jonas Kazlauskas would prefer?

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Plotlines to look for in tonight’s Greece vs. USA game

Unbelievable though it seems, tonight’s 2010 FIBA World Championship warmup game in Athens represents one of the last such games before the big tournament goes down. And though coach Jonas Kazlauskas has played down the importance of the game, stating that what happens tonight will have “nothing to do with” the Turkey tournament. (“Είναι ένα πολύ καλό τεστ, αλλά δεν θα έχει καμία σχέση με αυτά που θα συναντήσουμε στην Τουρκία.”)

Flashback from 2006

There’s no way you can convince a Team USA backer of that, though. American fans of the international game surely have Greece as no. 1 on the hit list after handing the Red-White-and-Blues their last seriously egregious defeat, the 101-95 masterpiece in the 2006 FIBA Worlds – not to mention the glimpse of a nice adrenaline-inducing team that overcame Spain this weekend.

What to look for in tonight’s game? How about these subplots…?

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