The European Championship is the most important basketball event of this year, so on that occasion the Krepsinis.net portal invites you to remember the most memorable moments of the Lithuanian national team.
This time we offer to remember the debut of Lithuanians in the World Cup tournament, which took place in 1998. Jonas Kazlauskas’ students had a strong start to the group stage and defeated the United States of America (USA), but then ran out of steam.
Lithuania, which regained its independence, had to wait a long time for its debut in the world championships, because the tickets for the 1994 championships were distributed at the 1993 European Championship, but then ours suffered a fiasco in the selection.
In 1998 Lithuania entered the World Cup thanks to its performance in 1997. In the European Championship, where they took 6th place, thereby grabbing the last ticket to the World Championship. Our team took part there with changes – J. Kazlauskas took over the helm from Vladas Garasts, and Arvydas Sabonis, Šarūnas Marčiulionis and Rimas Kurtinaitis left the national team.
The 1998 World Championship was held in Greece. Before the tournament, it was predicted that the US team would not win gold, as the National Basketball Association (NBA) was locked out at the time and the league’s players could not compete for their national team. Thus, the Americans had to invite basketball players who played in Europe and several young people from the NCAA.
Lithuanians started the planet’s championship by crushing South Korea 97:56. In the second meeting, our team faced the Americans and beat them 84:82. In that meeting, Artūras Karnišovas scored as many as 29 points. Saulius Štombergs added 15, Virginijus Praškevičius added 12, Dainius Adomaitis added 10. For the Americans, Jimmy Oliver scored 18 points, S. Hawkins – 16, J. Saseer added 13.
After defeating the Americans, the Lithuanians met another serious opposition in the next group match – they beat Brazil 66:62 after a tough fight.
In the second round, the Lithuanian game began to collapse: they lost to Australia 61:71, but in the next meeting they beat the Argentine national team 84:75. S. Štombergs scored 19 points, Darius Lukminas – 14, A. Karnišovas – 11.
In the last match of the second round, our team lost to the Spaniards 80:86 after extra time. A.Karnišov’s 20 points didn’t help, Šarūnas Jasikevičius scored 10, S.Štombergs – 9. With 2 minutes left, the Lithuanians still led 72:69, but the main time ended 75:75, and Spain played better in overtime. The defeat was particularly painful, as it dropped our team to third place in the group, when a win would have lifted them to the top position.
In the quarter-finals, we had to face a main opponent – Russia. Lithuanians lost the duel 67:82. The leaders were the same: S. Štombergas (17 points), A. Karnišovas (14 points), Eurelijus Žukauskas scored 12.
After a painful defeat, our team failed to recover in the fight for the 5th-8th places and fell again – this time against the Italians – 71:75. A. Karnišovas scored 20 points, E. Žukauskas – 13, S. Štombergas – 11.
The next day, in the match for the 7th position, Lithuania showed character and defeated Argentina 77:76. Gintaras Einikis scored 18 points, D. Adomaitis – 16, D. Lukminas – 12.
The championship was won by the national team of Yugoslavia, which defeated the Lithuanian oppressor Russia in the final. The bronze was won by the USA team, which beat the hosts Greece.
This championship was also marked by a kind of scandal, when J. Kazlauskas was disappointed by the lackluster game of G. Einikis and did not let him on the floor in the duel for the 5th-8th places against Italy. The center then announced that he would no longer play for the national team. However, he made up for it and defended the country’s honor again in the autumn in the selection of the European Championship.
J. Kazlauskas said after the last match of the tournament that he intends to retire from his duties and devote all his attention to his work at “Žalgiris” Kaunas, but he stayed and continued his work until 2001.
Composition of the Lithuanian national team: A. Karnišovas, S. Štombergas, D. Lukminas, G. Einikis, D. Adomaitis, E. Žukauskas, Š. Jasikevičius, V. Praškevičius, T. Masiulis, D. Maskoliūnas, T. Pačėsas, M. Žukauskas
Another promising championship, which started and went successfully, but ended with tears in the eyes of the players, is the 2014 championship, which took place in Spain.
Right before the World Cup, the national team was shocked by painful news – in a friendly match against Croatia, the main offensive player Mantas Kalnietis suffered a shoulder injury and had to miss the championship. Nevertheless, our performance was worthy of respect.
The Lithuanians played the group match in Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria. In the first match, they beat Mexico 87:74. Then Jonas Mačiulis scored 19 points. In the next duel, they beat Angola 75:62. Donatas Motiejūnas was the most productive with 12 points.
In the third group, J.Kazlauska’s pupils lost to the Australians 75:82 in a duel. Joe Ingles scored 18 points for the winners, and Renaldas Seibutis scored 21 for our team. Next came the crushing of South Korea (79:49) with Ada Juškevicius’ 20-point performance.
The last match of the group was characterized by a hard fight and a victory 67:64 against Slovenia, and the last half was extremely nervous and our team won it 12:2. Jonas Valančiūnas scored 12 points, and Erazemas Lorbeks scored 14 for the losers.
The Lithuanians, who took the first place in the group, moved to Barcelona and in the round of 16 beat New Zealand 76:71 after a tough fight. J. Valančiūnas recorded a double-double – 22 points and 13 rebounds. Tai Webster’s brother Corey scored 26 points for Zeeland.
In the quarter-finals, the Lithuanians met Turkey, which beat the Australians 65:64. There was a very persistent fight for three quarters, and the Lithuanians proved their superiority in the fourth quarter, which they won by 9 points, and the match – 73:61. Kerem Gonlum scored 13 points for the Turks, while R. Seibutis scored 19 for the winners.
In the semi-finals, the Lithuanians had no chance, because they met the USA basketball players. The Americans, who had plenty of capable NBA players, struggled against the Lithuanians for two quarters, but won 33:14 in the third quarter and settled all matters. The final score is 96:68. Kyrie Irving led the Americans ahead with 18 points, while J. Valančiūnas and Mindaugas Kuzminskas each scored 15 points for Lithuania.
In the fight for bronze, J. Kazlauska’s army met France, which recognized the superiority of the Serbs in the semi-finals 85:90. After three quarters, our team had a margin of 7 points, but made a number of mistakes at the crucial time and suffered a dramatic failure 93:95 and remained fourth. J. Valančiūnas scored 25 points and grabbed 9 balls. Nicolas Batum was unstoppable in the ranks of the French – 27 points. Lithuanian basketball players still remember this failure as one of the most painful, because the medals were within reach, but mistakes and the ball not being pushed to the opponent’s side of the field in time nullified the hard work that was done during the preparation and the championship itself.
The championship was won by the USA, which even crushed the Serbs 129:92.