Proving once again that, even when no games are being played, there’s never a dull moment in Lithuanian basketball, BallinEurope’s man in Lithuania (whom we know simply as “Y”) reports that a team executive there seems to have a bit of a slippery grasp on hard reality – and it’s not even Vladimir Romanov!
Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius continues in making its fans cry, losing to Cholet Basket, 73-69. The Lithuanian team sank to its worst-ever Euroleague start at 0-3 and will find it difficult to get into the next stage.
For most observers this is no surprise, however, as Lietuvos Rytas did not bring an impressive roster for their Euroleague campaign. Missing the Euroleague Top 16 last season by an inch, L.Rytas were able to bring in Jerry Johnson, Cemal Nalga, Brad Newley, Arvydas Siksnius and Petras Balocka during the offseason. Rimas Kurtinaitis was also replaced as head coach in favor of Drzen Anzulovic.
Even though Vilnius’ team has overachieved many times throughout the years in the experts’ opinions, this year it’s somewhat different. Anzulovic did not manage to build good team execution, Rytas’ main strength in previous years; a lack of inside presence plus Martynas Gecevicius’ awful play ever since the 2010 FIBA World Championship has resulted in new lows in team history. Rytas was not only blown out by most preseason Euroleague opponents, but also lost in the BBL Cup to Tartu Rock of Estonia.
Enough was enough, and Anzulovic was gone. To make matters worse, Jerry Johnson suffered an injury, so Khalid El-Amin was brought in. However, new head coach Alexander Trifunovic still can’t find winning ways either: hence the poor Euroleague start.
But for some, such a beginning may have come as a surprise. Before the season, Lietuvos Rytas general manager Jonas Vainauskas stated that “[The EL] Top 16 is our minimum target. I believe we can go as far as possible and maybe even reach the final four. Miracles have happened in the past and they will happen for Lietuvos Rytas.”
Later, after the sensational loss to Rock, not only was Vainauskas not at all disappointed, he also sent a message to Žalgiris, which did not compete in BBL Cup, reading in part: “When the time comes to compete for our local cups, I can almost promise you that we will win them. Because this year we are much, much better than all the other teams, which will try to resist.”
Many had thoughts as to what Vainauskas was thinking after such a poor start from his team. And commenting after the match against Cholet, he stuck with his previous statement: “Four or five wins in this group is enough to go to the Top 16. I don’t care how we take these four or five victories: It doesn’t matter if it’s in 10 games or in six games. I think this Lietuvos Rytas team is good enough not only to play in the Top 16, but also to compete for a spot in the final four.”
Optimistic? A bit too much, probably. But history shows that Rytas has done well – when Vainauskas did not publicly overestimate his club’s capabilities.
An additional headache for Vainauskas is his former investment Justas Sinica. After signing a three-year deal, Sinica was released this summer and subsequently sued the club for LTL 1.366 million (approximately €395,000/$560,000). As a result, a Vilnius district court *seized the team’s 1700-seat home arena* until the case is solved. This gives more credence to the recent rumours that the team might be running into financial troubles, but no other signs have yet surfaced to verify this.