A happy separation for the VTB United League?

The withdrawal of the Lithuanian clubs from the VTB United League, following on from the departure of Ukrainian clubs, has left the pan-national league looking essentially like Russia and fodder but this may not be all that bad, writes Emmet Ryan.

From day one money was the main motivation behind the VTB United League and money, or at least one source, has played a key role in its dilution. While the political instability in Ukraine made clubs from their a non-runner for 2014/15, local politics of a far more mundane manner influenced the withdrawal of Lithuania clubs. Vilnius city council threatened to withdraw funding from Lietuvos Rytas if they participated in the league this season, giving the club are rather direct and simple choice. The move effectively left the VTB League with none of the appealing clubs from the LKL on the table, with Zalgiris Kaunas already non-runners and Neptunas following swiftly in the wake of Rytas’ decision. With only lesser lights left, the VTB League opted to contract to a 16 team league, of which 10 sides are Russian.
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VTB League: CSKA cruise, more heartbreak for Neptunas

Neptunas are doing everything they can to be the lovable underdog of the VTB United League but CSKA Moscow remain the class of the league. Lietuvos Rytas meanwhile secured an important win over Lokomotiv Kuban, just four days before the sides meet again in Euroleague.

Omar Cook had 7 assists and Juan Palacios scored 12 as Lietuvos Rytas won a defensive struggle with Lokomotiv Kuban. The Krasnodar club managed to convert just 28 per cent of their shots from the field including a vile 4 of 16 from three-point range. The victory doesn’t just move the Lithuanian side to 2-0, it gives them a big mental advantage before Thursday’s clash with the same opponents in Euroleague.

CSKA Moscow, who had a lucky escape at Nanterre on Thursday, made much lighter work of Astana. A hot start meant the Russians looked to be in control but Astana dragged themselves back into the game and trailed by just a point entering the final frame. The Kazakhs however were out of gas and a 27-10 fourth quarter gave CSKA a comfortable 72-54 win. It was a balanced display but CSKA with Sonny Weems, Nenad Krstic, and Viktor Khryapa carrying the load for much of the game.

Tsmoki-Minsk won a thriller at the expense of Neptunas in the second round of action in the VTB League. The Belarus side condemned the Lithuanians to their second straight heartbreaking loss with a 91-90 win. Neptunas, who lost in overtime a week ago, trailed early but came back well to make a fight of the road contest. Martynas Mazeika, who had 17 points and 4 assists, had the chance to win the game for the visitors late but he couldn’t make the final bucket and the home side held to edge Neptunas 91-90 and take their second straight win, a remarkable early start considering they had just three wins in the league in the whole of last season.

Andrew Goodeluck was the charm for UNICS Kazan as they rolled to an 86-77 win over Enisey Krasnoyarsk. Goodeluck had 23 points and 6 assist in the win, bringing Kazan to 2-0 for the season.


Euroleague thrillers see wins for Lietuvos Rytas and Lokomotiv Kuban

There was high drama in Group D on Thursday night while Anadolu Efes continued a fine start for the Turkish contingent in Euroleague.

A dramatic finish saw Lietuvos Rytas scrape past Panathinaikos 84 – 83 thanks to Renaldas Seibutis sinking a jumper with 5.5 seconds remaining in overtime in the Eurolague Game of the Week. Neither side had more than a 6 point advantage throughout the game, meaning it was all drama from start to finish.

It took a three-pointer 18.8 seconds from the end from Panathinaikos’ Dimitris Diamantidis to sent the game into overtime, but it was Seibutis who was the star of the show, hitting two almost identical jump shots from 5 meters in the final 90 seconds of the extra session. He finished the game with 19 points while his teammate Darius Songaila collected 13 points and 8 rebounds.
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Round-up: Nanterre perfect, Siena can shoot, Neptunas fall in OT

Reigning champions Nanterre maintained their perfect start in France. In Italy, Montepaschi Siena showed they won’t lose many games for lack of shooting and in the VTB United League it was a heartbreaking debut for Lithuania’s Neptunas.

They were the Cinderella story of European Basketball last year but JSF Nanterre has begun the 2013-14 LNB season like seasoned champions. Having won the title as 8th seeds in the playoffs last year, Nanterre now hold a 3-0 record in domestic action on the back of an impressive 85-58 home win over Olympique Antibes. Xavier Corosine led the Euroleague newcomers in scoring with 18 points. Elsewhere in France, Vincent Collet’s Strasbourg topped Elan Chalon 78-68 on the back of 16 points and 8 boards from Alexis Ajinca.

Last year Montepaschi showed there was life after Bo McCalebb. This season they seem intent on proving they can keep on scoring after losing Bobby Brown. The reigning LegaBasket champions had five players in double digits as they rolled to a 97-82 win over Cremona. Spencer Nelson had 12 points and 15 rebounds for Siena while Karl English led all scorers with 22. Milan will have plenty to worry about due to the manner of their 88-80 loss at Brindisi. Milan were wholly dependent on Keith Langford (29 points, 7 rebounds) and David Moss (19 points, 7 rebounds) on offence as a more balanced Brindisi side took the win.

Game Tape focussed on the VTB United League yesterday where CSKA Moscow got off to a winning start with an 80-63 win over VEF Riga. Neptunas, the new arrivals in the league, came close to taking a win in their first outing. The Lithuanian side eventually succumbed to Avomash Mariupol of Kazakhtan in overtime, going down 96-86. Lietuvos Rytas fared better in their opener with a 70-66 win at Novgorod.


Round-up: Siena take Supercoppa, fight in Lithuania, Nanterre and Strasbourg squeeze out wins

Four Euroleague teams returned to domestic action on Tuesday night. In Italy, Montepaschi Siena took the Supercoppa, while there were league wins for JSF Nanterre and Strasbourg IG in France. Lietuvos Rytas also won in the LKL but their victory at Juventus was marred by a brawl.

After a one and done display in the Euroleague qualifiers, Cimberio Varese looked to get one over on Italian kingpins Montepaschi Siena in the Supercoppa on Tuesday night. The EuroCup outfit managed to hold a one point lead at the break. Aubrey Coleman, 23 points and 7 rebounds, and Achille Polonara, 17 points and 7 rebounds, did the heavy lifting for Varese but they lacked the strength in depth to stay in the contest down the stretch.  Siena bust them open with a big final quarter. That 29-19 final frame turned a competitive clash into a comfortable 81-66 victory for the Italian champions. Joshua Coleman led Siena in scoring with 18 points and picked up 4 boards while Daniel Hackett had 14 points and 6 rebounds.

There was no drama on the scoreboard, although plenty on the floor, as Lietuvos Rytas blew out Juventus in the LKL. Fresh off their success in the Euroleague qualifiers, the Vilnius club stormed to a 15 point lead by the end of the first quarter and the gap had grown to 47-27 by half-time. Dirk Bauermann’s side eventually secured a 92-67 road win but not before this went down…

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Euroleague: Lietuvos Rytas end BC Telenet Ostend’s Cinderella story

Lietuvos-Rytas-fansIt looked in doubt for much of the first half but eventually Lietuvos Rytas booked their place in the Euroleague regular season with a 75-66 victory over BC Telenet Ostend.

Give Lietuvos Rytas 7 competent minutes and they will give you nightmares. That’s what BC Telenet Ostend found out in the first half of their clash with the hosts in Vilnius. The Belgians looked awfully nervous in the early going, with the tone set by a horrible air-ball from Pierre-Antoine Gillet. After falling into a 9-2 hole, Ostend went on a 22-3 run fuelled by a creative and opportunistic offence. Gillet more than made up for his initial effort with a 4 of 4 display from beyond the arc after that in the first half. While three-pointers fuelled the Belgian’s lead, it was their work inside that kept Rytas honest. Time and again they found room to drive through the lane and Dirk Bauermann’s side look flat out porous on defence.

With the gap as wide as 14 points at one stage, the game was starting to slip away from Rytas mid-way through the second quarter. Then came a vital substitution as Eimantas Bendzius nailed a three and followed it up with a breakaway lay-up straight afterwards. The home crowd, which had been silenced by the underdog’s strong start, finally started to get back in the game. With 17 seconds left in the quarter Renaldas Seibuitis had a chance to tie things up but he missed a lay-up and Ostend entered the break with a 43-41 lead. Rytas however had got out of jail. Now the onus was on them to make the second chance count.

Martynas Gecevicius didn’t need to be told twice. The man who went 8 of 10 from long range on Thursday hit a crucial three midway through the third to push Rytas into the lead for the first time since early in the game. Seibutis followed that up with a three and with the home side leading 49-44, Ostend were forced to call time out. It didn’t stop the push. Gecevicius went deep again and then Omar Cook just beat the shot clock to make it a double digit lead. Ostend got the final score of the quarter but still trailed 65-56.

Ryan Thompson, who had carried his side through the opening two rounds wasn’t getting it done. He needed support on offence, it wasn’t coming. Scoring was scrappy in the third but Seibutis stretched the lead to 11 with 7 minutes to play. Time was not on the Belgians’ side and Rytas were picking up plenty of second chance possessions to drain the clock. This may have been the most difficult of the home side’s three games but once they took the lead for good, the result looked assured…so naturally Ostend mounted a charge down the stretch to cut it to 70-66 with 2 minutes on the clock. Gecevicius came to the rescue again with a snatched interception and Juan Palacios iced the matter up the other end.

With the victory Lietuvos Rytas qualify for Group D and will host Panathinaikos on 17 October. Ostend, for all their heroics, leave Vilnius as they arrived. With a place in EuroCup.


No (Ost)End to the drama at Euroleague Qualifiers

Lietuvos Rytas and BC Telenet Ostend secured their places in the Euroleague qualifying round final with victories today. The home side rode a monster day from Martynas Gecevicius to their win over EWE Oldenburg while Ostend delivered a heap of drama before finally edging Banvit Bandirma 82-80.

Ostend did everything in their power to undo the good work they put in at the start of the fourth quarter but still found a way to beat Banvit. The Belgian champions were involved in a tit-for-tat contest through three quarters in Thursday’s second semi-final but appeared to have made a break for home when they moved into a 79-71 lead on the back of some impressive three-point shooting. Banvit, who made their own share of poor decisions in the final frame, found a way to get back and kept pushing it into a one-possession situation. Ryan Thompson led Ostend in scoring with 19 points while Andrija Stipanovic grabbed 9 boards and Niels Marnegrave had 5 assists.

Context is really important here. Ostend arrived in Vilnius following defeat in the Belgian Supercup and head coach Josip Gjergja had pleaded with fans for patience. Then they ride into Lithuania and take out the pre-tournament favourites Khimki Moscow Region in the first round and have now followed it up by booking a place in the final. That surely makes this tournament a success but those two wins will be for nothing if they miss out on Friday.

The challenge ahead of them is big. Lietuvos Rytas won Thursday’s first semi-final 99-87 over EWE Baskets Oldenburg. The Germans kept in touch through the first three quarters, thanks in large part to Chris Kramer’s 24 points and 4 rebounds but there was no stopping Gecevicius for the home team. Gecevicius had 34 points 4 rebounds and 2 assists and was ably assisted by Omar Cook (14 points, 3 assists) and Juan Palacios (10 points, 5 rebounds). In the final frame it was the strength in depth of the Vilnius team that proved telling as they had the options to double their 6-point advantage down the stretch and send Oldenburg to EuroCup.

Friday’s final will see the home side as big favourites and they know the price of failure is steep. Lose at home and it’s off to EuroCup. All of the pressure and expectation is on Dirk Bauermann’s charges. That will play nicely into Ostend’s hands who will surely relish a third straight game as underdogs. Only one team can make the main draw. In 24 hours, we’ll know the 24th and final team in Euroleague for 2013-14.


Euroleague: Seibutis shines as Lietuvos Rytas beat VEF Riga 80-71

The home side pulled out a hard-earned victory in Vilnius to advance to the semi-finals of the Euroleague Qualifying tournament.

Wait, didn’t EuroBasket end a couple of weeks ago? The Latvian team lived and died by the three while Renaldas Seibutis came up big to give the Lithuanians victory. Lietuvos Rytas took the lead early and tried to make home advantage count, moving into a double-digit lead at the end of the first half, but it was the beyond the arc work of VEF Riga that kept this game close.

Seibutis carried the load with 23 points for the home side as they faced a somewhat tougher than expected challenge from Riga. The visitors kept it close and were just 73-69 down with 1.40 on the clock but Rytas had the tools to finish them off. A 7-2 run to close the game, iced by an Omar Cook three-pointer, proved decisive and the Lithuanians are one step closer to making the regular season.

Lietuvos Rytas will now play EWE Baskets Oldenburg on Thursday. Wednesday sees the other two opening round games with Khimki Moscow Region facing Belgian champions Telent Oostende and Czech champions CEZ Nymburk taking on Turkish runners up Banvit Bandirma.



Podcast: Interview with Team Poland/Lietuvos Rytas coach Dirk Bauermann

Taking the Charge podcast series Episode #39 of the weekly “Taking the Charge” podcast series is now available online.

Co-host David Hein and BiE have kept this one mercifully (relatively) short. Recorded directly after game three of the San Antonio Spurs-Miami Heat NBA championship – not to mention directly thereafter game two of the Liga Endesa finals, game two of the Greek League finals and game one of Italy’s Serie A championship series – we do touch upon some happenings in these, but at center…

…is an interview with Dirk Bauermann, former head coach of Team Germany and Bayern Munich and currently with Team Poland and Lietuvos Rytas. Bauermann talks to us about his hopes for his new charges in Eurobasket 2013 (unfortunately seemingly without Marcin Gortat), what to expect from L. Rytas next season and, naturally, on earning his keep in the great basketball state of Lithuania.

As for the sports movie of the week film review, we check out probably the greatest baseball movie you’ve never heard of, namely The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings.

Check out the entire podcast here or to subscribe from this episode ad infinitum, enter into iTunes or any podcast aggregator.

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Nike International Junior Tournament: Day three roundup

(Marc Garcia image courtesy Euroleague)

Garcia: Again the top-scorer for Barca

Just over two hours remain before Spain’s Europe’s top youth teams face off in the Nike International Junior Tournament championship game, and so follows a recap of yesterday’s action which ultimately saw FC Barcelona and Joventut Badalona advance, as provided by Net Scouts. The shows that these teams put on in facing a variety of styles – particularly impressive was Joventut, who handled defensive-minded Lietuvos Rytas, shut down the often dominant Dusan Ristic and Crvena Zvezda/Red Star Belgrade, and kept pace with a hustling Team China – are a true testament to the quality of these youth programs…

Joventut Badalona had little trouble with China (1-2), forcing the Chinese into 25 turnovers which resulted in Joventut taking 22 more shots in the game. Joventut maintained a double-digit lead for much of the contest. 6’8” Jose Nogues led the winners with 21 points, shooting 8-of-13 on two-pointers. 6’4” Agusti Sans finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and eight assists while 6’5” Alberto Abalde scored 16 and hit three three-pointers. 6’5” Jinglong Li was the only player in double-figures for Team China with 14 points. Joventut came back from a two-point deficit at the end of the first quarter to score 25 in the second to take a ten-point halftime lead.

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