With the new Euroleague season nearing, BallinEurope is once more break down each of the teams individually on 16 consecutive days in the run up to tip off. As with last season, we’re going in reverse order from the opening round of games. Our attention turns now to Zalgiris Kaunas, a side that has shown its budget being low won’t stop it from contending and an awful lot of that is down to having the most in-demand coach in European basketball, Sarunas Jasikevicius
Life is quite good for Sarunas Jasikevicius. His first full-time gig as a head coach was where he finished his career as a player and it’s gone quite well for him. So well that folks thought he might be gone before last season. He wasn’t. Most folk assumed he’d find it hard to turn down a big move this off-season. It might have been difficult but he didn’t like the offers there. When you are the most sought after young coach in Europe, patience is a virtue.
Having a club with the tradition like Zalgiris, coming with it the tendency to utterly ruin all opponents in Lithuania also helps. When Saras knows his side can dominate in the LKL on talent alone, he can mould the players he has into being a unit capable of punching above its weight in Euroleague. Nobody expects Zalgiris to make the playoffs so when they get anywhere within sniffing distance of them, he gets lauded and rightly so. Now comes the third year, the one Bela Guttmann always said should be the last one.
If this is to be the final fling for Saras with Zalgiris then he’s certainly keen to go out on a high note, both in terms of performance and his own professional development. With significant roster changes, Saras has a challenge ahead but one that could cement him as the coach teams with real budgets want when it’s time to blow everything up. He’ll also win another LKL title this year which is nice.
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Coach: Sarunas Jasikevicius
Arena: Zalgirio Arena, 15,552
Last season in Euroleague: 14-16, 10th
Last season in LKL: 33-3, won finals
Who’s new? Dee Bost (Monaco), Brandon Davies (Monaco), Vasilije Micic (Tofas), Martynas Sajus (Polpharma), Axel Toupane (New Orleans Pelicans), Aaron White (Zenit)
Who’s gone? Brock Motum (Anadolu Efes), Augusto Lima (Besiktas), Leo Westermann (CSKA Moscow), Renaldas Seibuitis (Neptunas), Lukas Lekavicius (Panathinaikos), Robertas Javtokas (retired), Laurynas Birutis (Siauliai), Isaiah Hartenstein (To be confirmed), Gytis Masiulis (free agent)
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Dee Bost playing Euroleague promises to be lots of fun. Micic looks like a reclamation project waiting to happen and Toupane isn’t far off. That gives Saras something to wrk with in the year ahead. The losses of Motum, Westermann, and Lekavicius are not going to be easy to overcome. Those were players who clearly got better under Saras but departed before he could really get the most out of them.
While unlikely to threaten for a berth in the playoffs, don’t expect this team to even remotely resemble cannon fodder. Zalgiris has proven it can find ways to get Ws with regularity and that should prevent them from being a pushover at any stage in the season.
Fearless prediction: 14th. I was hasty giving this side the wooden spoon last year, yup I was miles off, and the gap between this slot (even assuming I am wrong again) and last promises to be significant but I just don’t see where Zalgiris get the wins to stay in the playoff chase through the mid-part of the season.
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