By: Kamal Hylton (@KamalHylton)
Coming into this tournament having qualified as runners-up in 2013 EuroBasket, coach Jonas Kazlauskas will look for his side to take a step forward and use the 80-66 loss to France in the final as a rallying point.
Two young stars to watch for the Lithuanians are Toronto Raptors Jonas Valaciunas and Houston Rockets Donatas Motiejunas, both coming off solid sophomore seasons in the NBA.
The 22-year-old Valaciunas saw a big jump in minutes and touches after the Raptors trade of Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings for Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes. The young big man contributing with 11.3 points and 8.8 rebounds as well as picking up valuable experience in the playoffs, going toe-to-toe and getting the best of Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Garnett.
As for Montiejunas, he was only able to average 5.5 points this season for the Rockets off the bench, but the shake up in Houston combined with a strong summer league could see the 7-footer receive increased minutes in a breakout year.
Lithuania will be without a familiar name in Linas Kleiza. The forward from Italian Serie A side Olimpia Milano is a big loss, as he brings size, scoring and energy from the wing position averaging 10.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 45% from the field last season in 24 EuroLeague games with Turkish giants Fenerbahce Ulker.
This is a group with plenty of experienced players to help fill the void, including 27-year-old point guard Mantas Kalnietis and 29-year-old shooting guard Renaldas Seibutis.
Playing for Russian club Lokomotiv Kuban, Kalnietis 9.4 points and 4.9 assists last season and has the capabilities to play both guard positions. In Seibutis, Lithuania has a player that has played for big teams in Greece, Spain as well as the homeland Lithuania for Olympiacos, Bilbao Basket and Leituvos Rytas respectively. His seasons with the Lithuanian club stand out, as he averaged double digit points and shot in the 40% range from beyond the arc.
The teams preparations are already well underway, having kicked off training camp on July 7th in Palanga, Lithuania. Having already played games against Latvia and Georgia, coach Kazlauskas’ squad will play Finland, Ukraine, Australia, Greece, New Zealand and Slovenia amongst others before its first game of the tournament against Mexico on August 30th.
Statistics courtesy of Aaron Nielsen (@ENBSports) of ENB Sports Statistics Ltd. and Basketball Reference.