The ten-year-awaited gold is a serious step forward for J. Jocyte and the entire Lithuanian women’s basketball

For many Lithuanian basketball fans, August 14 became the best day of the summer so far – the 18-year-old girls’ national team lifted the European Championship trophy.

Lithuanians missed such an achievement more than they would dare to admit. No national team has won gold on the international stage since 2012, when the “golden generation” boys, born in 1992, triumphed at the European Under-20 Championship.

The students of Kazis Maksvytis won the title even playing without Jonas Valančiūnas, so many fans were waiting for the coming golden age, but everything turned out the opposite.

Prolonged famine

Since 2012, Lithuanians have had to settle for two silver sets in the European Men’s Championships (2013 and 2015) and the bronze of Kaunas “Žalgiris” in the Euroleague (2018). Recent performances have also turned into disappointments in the long run, failing to qualify for the Olympics and Žalgiris falling to

Euroleague bottom.

The youth tournaments were not spoiled with medals either. Boys’ national teams of all age groups participated in 29 championships during the decade, bringing home 5 sets of silver and 4 bronze medals. The girls’ national teams generally balanced between the A and B divisions, they played 15 elite championships and brought back only one silver – the U-16 team led by thirteen-year-old Justė Jocytė won this one in 2019.

Now the Lithuanian prodigy is 16 years old (she will turn 17 in November) and she once again took a group of older girls on her shoulders. At the beginning of the championship, she did not explode with individual performances, and in the long term it even came to her advantage, helping the other members of the national team to accelerate.

J. Jocytė managed to play not only in the U-16 championship, but she also made her debut in the women’s national team, she appeared in the European Cup with the ASVEL shirt of Villerban. Meanwhile, many other players of the national team are just starting their way in international tournaments and are far behind their leader in terms of experience.

Eighteen-year-old girls’ national teams could only dream about such heights until now. Since 2010, they haven’t even managed to reach the quarter-finals in this championship, and now they have won gold and a ticket to the 19-year-old championships.

Brilliant players

Lithuanian commentators who watched the match repeatedly compared J. Jocytė with Luka Dončičius, and parallels can really be seen here. Both shot at a very young age, have exceptional data for offensive players and achieve results by involving their teammates. It was the latter aspect that ignited this national team the most.

In the group stage, J. Jocytė did not force shots, she was not the most productive in any match, and after three games she had only the third points average in the Lithuanian national team, falling behind Rusne Augustinaite and Gerda Raulušaitytė.

R. Augustinaitė from Šiauliai is improving beyond the Atlantic and has already received offers from famous universities. The Lithuanian really showed American motives in her game – her love of running to a fast attack and playing in the open field, good control of the ball and healthy “agility” allowed her to often break the opponents’ defense.

G. Raulušaitytė and Ugnė Sirtautaitė, who formed the front line, often had problems fighting for balls under their basket, but they left a solid impression in attack. They made two-pointers with 55.6 and 62.5 percent accuracy, respectively, and according to this indicator, they were among the five most efficient players of the tournament.

Viltė Andrunavičiūtė also built a good reputation. Together with J.Jocyte, the Panevėžian got her best form in the decisive match. She recorded an average of just 6 points in the group stage, and gave up 16 points to her opponents in the semifinals and finals, becoming an important “x factor”.

The solidly built striker was characterized by both physicality and good throwing technique and showed significant progress during the year. In last year’s U-18 challenge tournament, she collected only 1.4 points, and in 2019, she scored only 2 points in the silver U-16 national team during the entire championship.

Neda Pliatkutė is also worth a special mention, who statistically didn’t do much (26 minutes, 5.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 7.7 utility points), but despite being taller than most of her rivals, she surpassed them in combativeness and critical importance was in decisive seconds in episodes, avoiding neither contact in defense nor important shots in attack.

It is also necessary to note the contribution of coach Viliaus Stanišauskas. The strategist, who opened the championship with a loss to Finland, was able to keep a cool mind of his students, found minutes for younger members of the national team in the group stage, and in the playoffs he activated a rotation of seven players, being able to save his strength for decisive battles.

Important post for J.Jocytei

J. Jocytė shone with the brightest colors when it was needed the most. The quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals were won by an average margin of 7 points, and she scored 31, 21, and 28 points, respectively, in these stages, fully deservingly becoming the MVP of the tournament and entering the symbolic five.

Her composure in decisive attacks was also surprising. In the matches of the final eight, she hit even 33 of 36 free throws (92 percent accuracy), missed only four times and constantly aimed for triple doubles.

It is this “clutch” gene that is most often missing in the leaders of the Lithuanian national teams. This is what can be blamed for the fact that even the last six finals were lost in a row in youth tournaments, and this one was not won by chance, although it would be easy to write off the 78:75 victory as luck.

For J. Jocyte herself, this means additional attention in the international arena and a ticket to the World U-19 Championship, where she will finally be able to show herself to the eyes of United States of America (USA) specialists.

The talented Lithuanian does not hide that she is aiming for the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), but getting there from Europe is extremely difficult. Only one female basketball player who played in Europe was invited to this year’s draft (29th draft, Sika Kone). Finland’s Awak Kuier, who was drafted last year in the second round, seems to give hope, but this is more of an exception to the rule. Aukštaūgė became famous in women’s basketball at the age of 14 with extremely rare layups, and J. Jocytė does not have such a trump card.

The intricacies of the WNBA rules also get in the way. The Lithuanian was born in Washington, D.C., so she is treated as a local across the Atlantic, and because of that, she may not get the permission to participate in the draft market until 2027, and a lot can happen before then.

An additional platform in the international arena will be useful for Lithuania, since its role in Villersbane remains limited for now. In the European Cup, she collected 3.9 points, 2.4 rebounds and 5.3 utility points in 14 minutes. Yes, there are not many such sixteen-year-olds, but we must not forget that girls mature earlier, so they can compete among adults from a younger age.

J. Jocytė remains one of the most talented young players in Europe, who has a very bright future ahead of her, but you can’t rest on your laurels just yet. We can only hope that gold and the MVP statuette will become a source of additional motivation. At the same time, it is necessary to turn the participation of Vilnius “Kibirkšties” in the European Cup into the beginning of the renaissance of Lithuanian women’s basketball, attracting and nurturing new talents – the gold brought such attention and views, which until recently could only be dreamed of.

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