Rimas Looks To Create His Own Dream Team

04.06.2006

By David Broome, PA Sport

After winning an Olympic gold in 1988, playing against the USA "Dream Team" in 1992 and collecting a host of other medals in his illustrious career, some might have expected Lithuanian basketball legend Rimas Kurtinaitis to kick back and relax.

BC Gala coach Rimas Kurtinaitis
Rimas Kurtinaitis
He retired in 1997, but nothing could be further from the truth as the former shooting guard has just guided Azerbaijan to their first-ever trophy.

Kurtinaitis and Co won the European Promotion Cup after defeating host nation Albania 66-57 in the final on Saturday.

The coach says it has been an amazing ride with the team since he took the reins.

He told PA Sport: "We only really started a few years ago so this is a great result and a big moment for the team."

It marks an incredible progression for the Eurasian nation, who only began playing competitively upon Kurtinaitis' appointment as coach three years ago.

The visitors opened up a narrow 13-12 lead in the first quarter, but a scoring burst of 15-9 before the break gave them a seven-point lead they never looked like squandering.

Kurtinaitis believes their strong start was key.

"I think Albania were the best team in the tournament because they usually took an early lead and held onto it," he said.

"But this time we always led the game and I don't think they knew how to deal with that."

Aleksandr Rindin (Azerbaijan)
Aleksandr Rindin had 21 points and 14 rebounds for Azerbaijan in the final
He highlighted the performance of centre Aleksandr Rindin, who was unlucky to miss out on the tournament MVP after this performance, as key to their success.

"I think our best player was Aleksandr. He got 21 baskets and 14 rebounds which obviously were a big factor."

Kurtinaitis was a prominent player in the Soviet Union team which won gold in Seoul 18 years ago and also played in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics for Lithuania when they won bronze medals.

In '92, he went up against legends like Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as the USA were allowed to put their first "Dream Team" on court.

And he has tried to pass on some of this wealth of experience to his young charges in Azerbaijan.

"Our team (Lithuania) was much better but I try to get this team to play in a similar way to how we did," he said.

"There is a different style though, we are much more evenly balanced in defence and attack (the Lithuania team were famous for their shooting)."

He also believes that his former team can continue to go from strength to strength after qualifying for the FIBA World Championship 2006, and does not rule out a move to coach the side should the chance come about.

"I have coached the under-21 team and we had a lot of success but for sure, I'd always be interested in coaching the senior team if I was asked.

"We are always looking to win the gold medal. We won in Sweden in 2003 but last time (in 2005) we didn't do so well but we are still an ambitious team."

I had to start from zero
Rimas Kurtinaitis
However, for the moment, he is focused on the job in hand, and he sees a bright future for the "kids" he has brought into the team.

With 15-year old Amil Hamzayev, 17-year-old Emil Mirzayev and 18-year-old Anar Hajiyev all having played some part in this tournament, he believes the foundations are there for Azerbaijan to go from strength to strength.

"I found some young players and they've been really good since I brought them into the squad," he said.

"I had to start from zero though, we had had no victories before I took over and I brought in kids who were only 11 to 14 years old.

Now they are 15 to 18 and they feel like my own kids because I have been with them so long - I feel like their dad.

"We won the Muslim Olympics last year so this is two victories in two years.

"Now we can make a big step towards the future - we have a young team of teenagers and this is a very rich country so the future looks good."


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