2008 Men's Olympic Basketball Preview: Lithuania

This marks the 7th preview in as many days in a collaborative effort with fellow SB Nation blog At The Hive. Check out previous posts in the sidebars at both sites or click on the following links: China, Greece, Russia, Argentina, Australia, and Iran.

Population:
3,565,205

Size in Comparison to a US State: About the size of West Virgina (slightly larger).

Suffrage: Universal at 18.

Interesting Fact: In 1990 Lithuania was the first republic to declare its independence from the Soviet Republic. Soviet troops did not get the memo and stayed for 3 more years.

Recommended Reading:
Big Game, Small World: A Basketball Adventure - Sarunas Marciulionis makes a cameo in this one and quite frankly he deserves his own definitive biography. He had a few great seasons off the bench in Oakland, helped build the Lithuanian National Team, and worked with the Grateful dead on warm ups:

Lith_medium

via www.sfgate.com

Marciulionis is awesome.

World Rank (Courtesy of FIBA): 5

Qualified: European Champion Runner up

Dream Match Up in Beijing: Russia

Dream Match Up That Did Not Qualify:
Latvia (I always link them.)

Recent News: The Lithuanian team was on a roll preparing for the Olympics until it ran into the Spanish buzz saw. This happened too.

Basketball Note - The Lithuanians love to shoot three-pointers. Bonus points because they're good at it. Unfortunately, with apologies to Sarunas Jasikevicius, they could desperately use some high caliber dribbling. They must hate the Paul/Kidd/Williams trio.

One More Guy I Should Mention: I'd be remiss if I did not give a shout out to my favorite Lithuanian center of all time - Arvydas freaking Sabonis. Why you ask? Why not? Touché

Sabonis_200_030109_medium

via www.nba.com

Player info after the jump...

Notable Misses - The Cavaliers strongly disagreed with Zydrunas Ilgauskas suiting up for the homeland. Darius Songaila is hurt and Arvydas Macijauskas appears to be injured as well. Of the three Macijauskas is the least familiar to me, but he was a favorite of Simone Sandri,

I think Macijauskas is going to be one of the key guys. Two years ago, he basically lost the whole year (with the Hornets), then came back (to Europe) and got injured, and this season, he’s playing well. He’s one of the guys who has a lot of prove. With the national team his play has been very up and down. I think he’s arguably one of the best pure shooters in the world. - Simone Sandri

Simas Jasaitis - Guard/Forward: It's been a big month for Jasaitis between his preparation for the Olympics and new contract with DKV Joventut. At 26 he's got history on both the national team (been a fixture since just missing out on the 2004 Olympic squad) and a few high powered clubs. He's also no stranger to winning. While few denied his talent, Jasaitis was inconsistent as a young player. However, over the last few years his reputation has improved with his play on Maccabi Tel-Aviv and his upcoming career with an elite Spanish squad does not hurt either. Catch a bonus interview here.

Sarunas Jasikevicius - Point Guard:
Jasikevicius went to high school in Pennsylvania and played his college ball at Maryland. That time in the states produced this profile (scroll down for a list of "prospects" that ultimately did not make it - I see you Mateen Cleaves) and a great quote from the young Lithuanian,

"My parents want me to come here because of education. Basketball comes second to them. But for me, it comes first. [The NBA] has been my goal from the first time I knew what it was all about."  - Sarunas Jasikevicius

Love the honesty. Following his Terrapin career Jasikevicius went back to Lithuania to play professionally before signing with the Indiana Pacers in 2005. After a couple of nondescript seasons he was part of the epic Stephen Jackson deal, eventually got bought out by the Warriors, and returned to Europe. Regardless of what happened in the NBA Jasikevicius dominated European ball (reigning Euroleague MVP) and got white hot against Team USA in Athens. He's a legend in Europe that will contribute even if he is aging. Bonus points because he loves the no look pass. As a side note I encourage you to do a Google image search of Sarunas Jasikevicius. One warning though: You will be amused, decidedly unimpressed, or both. And yes the following picture killed me:

Goalnews_large_t_1041_449086_type11442_medium

via media2.feed.gr

[Update: Reader gsdubs passed along some helpful corrections on Jasikevicius in the comments section. I will paste them in here as well:]

I hate to be rude but you are a bit off on your Jasikevicius info. He played for teams in Lithuania , Slovenia, Spain and Israel before going to the NBA. In Israel he was one of the best players on two dominant Euroleague title teams. He is not the reigning Euroleague MVP, that honor belongs to Ramunas Siskauskas. He does however have a Euroleague final four MVP and earned the MVP of the 2003 Eurobasket tournament. - gsdubs

Robertas Javtokas - Center: The man has ups. In fact he threw down a nice dunk for Lithuania's first basket in the friendly against Team USA. It's even more impressive given the fact that he had a nasty motorcycle accident back in 2002 (hat tip Fran Fraschilla). In fact some questioned whether he would ever walk again. Despite his stunning return Javtokas is not getting any younger and you have to wonder if he will ever join the San Antonio Spurs, who still hold his rights from the 2001 draft. Overall look for Javtokas to make an impact on the defensive end while throwing it down on offense as well.

Rimantas Kaukėnas - Guard:
After playing his college ball at Seton Hall Kaukėnas played for a ton of teams in Europe and appeared to retire from the national team in 2003. Obviously he's back in the fold. Check out some video highlights of Kaukėnas here and an interview with him here. In closing some consider him amongst the world's elite, particularly of players not currently in the NBA.

Linas Kleiza - Forward: He played his high school ball in Maryland and went to Missouri where I recall watching him play and thinking, "That guy's a bad ass." Seriously Kleiza is a tough player. I absolutely love his game and wish he did not play the same position as Carmelo Anthony. He has made noticeable improvements from deep and proved he can score at the NBA level. Check out this old interview conducted by Marc J. Spears for great info on Kleiza. Everything from his adjustment to the US, to how many languages he speaks (4 and part of a fifth).

Darjus Lavrinovic - Center + Ksistof Lavrinovic - Forward/Center:
These twin brothers both had a hiatus from basketball because of legal problems. With Ksistof it was serious enough (rape charges that led to a conviction before being recanted) that he missed his shot at joining the NBA. This profile of Darjus makes the case that they are roughly the same player but I don't get the same notion from reading Ksistof's where he is praised for his height, defense, hands, and overall body.

Mindaugas Lukauskis - Shooting Guard:
Is known as one of the better players that continues to compete in the Lithuanian Basketball League. However, unlike many of the players on this roster, Lukauskis does not have a strong history of national team play. Though he made the Olympic squad this time, after several misses, Lithuania will not be relying heavily on him in Beijing.

Jonas Maciulis - Forward: Known more for his defense, wing-span, basketball IQ, and competitive nature than for his ball handling or shooting, particularly from deep. On the plus side he is young and constantly improving.

Marijonas Petravicius - Center:
Went to New Hampton (of Rashad McCants fame), played his college ball at South Carolina, and has been a professional in Europe ever since. I was impressed by his willingness to mix it up against the Americans, even with the modest stats (7 points, 5 rebounds).

Marius Prekevicius - Center Playmaker/Point Guard (thanks for the e-mail correction): Spent some time in the US playing ball (Weatherford College and South Florida) and then returned to Lithuania to play. Not a lot of info out there about him.

Ramunas Siskauskas - Guard/Forward:
Rick Kamla called him one of the toughest players in the Euroleage during the recent USA/Lithuania friendly. More importantly he is known as "The Baltic Pippen" for his all around versatility, which is evident in his leaping, quickness, and defense. Siskauskas can also create his own shot. Lithuania will need him to step up to relive any of its past Olympic success.

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