– As appeared on FIBA.com on Jan 31, 2013
REGENSBURG (David Hein’s Eye on the Future) – Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius will get the chance to repeat their title at the famed Nike International Junior Tournament after knocking off Lithuanian rivals Zalgiris Kaunas 100-81 in the Siauliai Tournament to book their spot in the finals at the Euroleague Final Four in London.
Rytas hope to make history and become the third team to repeat their crown following CSKA Moscow’s three-peat from 2004 to 2006 and FMP’s wins in 2008 and 2009. The Vilnius club would also be the fourth side with multiple NIJT titles as Zalgiris Rytas won in 2003 and 2007.
Rytas’s star Edvinas Seskus will get his chance to make history as well. Seskus collected 17 points, 6 rebounds and 4 rebounds as Rytas beat Fenerbahce 88-70 in last May’s NIJT final in Istanbul.
After losing two of the team’s main weapons – Augustinas Jankaitis and Tautvydas Jodelis – Seskus was in charge of taking over the leadership. And the Prienai native collected 26 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists in the Siauliai final against Kaunas. Back with Seskus from last spring’s success are Gediminas Zalalis, Alvydas Zarskus, Lukas Ganas, Deividas Kumelis and Karolis Razukas.
But the NIJT will go a long way in proving just how valuable and good Seskus is. The 1995 generation in Lithuania isn’t considered that strong with Seskus being one of the few prospects of an unimpressive class.
For all the success that Seskus has had with Rytas, the shooting guard has been unable to live up to the huge expectations with the Lithuanian national team. And he’s leading a generation which has a series of medal winning classes ahead of them.
With Lithuanian basketball officials rarely mixing generations on the national team, the gold standard is the 1992 class topped by Jonas Valanciunas. The future NBA center won U16 European gold in 2008, U18 European gold in 2010 and gold at the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship. The rest of the generation proved they can win without Jonas by taking the 2012 U20 European crown as well.
The 1993 class followed that up with U16 European silver in 2009, fourth place at the 2010 FIBA U17 World Championship and U18 European fifth place in 2011.
The 1994 Lithuanian generation had the unfortunate burden of being born the same year as Croatian superstar Dario Saric as the Balkan nation finished second to the Croatians at the 2010 U16 European Championship and the 2012 U18 European Championship.
Seskus and his 1995 class? Well, they finished 13th and in the relegation round of the 2011 U16 European Championship. And then, despite being hosts, Lithuania took ninth place at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship with an overtime win over Korea, a one-point victory over Egypt and a solid victory against France in seven contests.
Those are hardly the results that Lithuanians are accustomed to. And Seskus has to answer to those critics since he is the leader of the team.
At least he’s doing the job at the NIJT. A second title would go a long way to proving at least himself as a winner.