After having talked about the future of the Greek National team, today we’re going to analyze the current situation in the Lithuanian national team.
The disappointing finish in Beijing with only a 4th place for a team that looked superior in terms of skill will probably mark the end of a generation in Lithuania. Ramunas Siskauskas has already announced his international retirement, as has Darius Songaila, and I would not be surprised to hear a few more names falling shortly.
The Lithuanian team and its key players in general were among the oldest in Beijing. Kaukenas, the Lavrinovic brothers, Siskauskas and Jasikevicius are all close to turning 30 or are already older. And of the younger guys, only Linas Kleiza had an important impact. So it looks like the coaching staff has to make some changes in order to have a competitive team in London 2012. But first of all, the goal is of course the next Eurobasket and especially 2011, when the European crown will be disputed in Lithuania.
If you check which players can become solid national team members in coming years, you have first of all take a closer look at the 1985 generation. There is of course Linas Kleiza, who is already a proven member of the team and Jonas Maciulis, who should take over the SF job from Siskauskas soon. Other players from the 2005 U20 silver-medal team are Mantas Kalnietis and Renaldas Seibutis, two players that have struggled to improve over the last two seasons but remain candidates to make the team.
Another big candidate is of course Arturas Jomantas. The aggressive forward from Lietuvos Rytas has shown some interesting development in recent years and is known for being a very tough defender; something that Lithuanian teams might have missed recently. But all of these players are either backcourt guys or wings.
The question is, “Who will fill the middle if the Lavrinovics opt out?” There is of course Robertas Javtokas, but he does not posses the variety of offensive options that the twins offer. Going through the different generations, you see no particularly talented big men ready for the near future, and you have to dig deep into the youth categories to find the 1990-born Donatas Motiejunas and Tautvydas Slezas. While the first one is a more mobile power forward, Slezas can be considered a true center prospect. But both guys won’t be ready to compete in Eurobasket 2009. Their future is probably more in 2011 and London 2012, when they will be 22.
Until then, it looks like the Lithuanian national team needs to use the Lavrinovic brothers and Javtokas to be their men in the middle. Another player to take a closer look at is PF Povilas Butkevicius, who signed for BC Kaunas. The 1987-born player should see big minutes on Zalgiris’ reserve team in the highest Lithuanian League (LKL), and he could be a possible player in a long-term perspective if he improves on this level this season.
The problem with a lot of Lithuanian talents is that some cannot fulfill the expectations put upon them after their bright results in youth categories. Players like Vilmantas Dilys or Martynas Pocius were seen as future key players for the senior team but their progression stopped for several reasons. So talking about such young guys as above as future participants in big tournaments may be a bit premature. On the other hand, with Lithuania’s large reservoir of player talent, there is always the possibility of a late emergence. For example, Ramunas Siskauskas was not a big contributor in youth championships but immediately had an impact on the professional level.
And if you add this all up, the possible roster for the Lithuanian national team during the London Olympics would be the following.
Guards: Kalnietis, Gecevicius, Kaukenas, Janavicius;
Forwards: Kleiza, Jasaitis, Maciulis, Jomantas, Motiejunas;
Centers: Javtokas, K. Lavrinovic, D. Lavrinovic.