A History-Making Final

24 August 2008
Something new will happen tonight around 22:00 at the Palazzetto Giovanni Paolo II in Pescara, Italy.

Once Lithuania and the Czech Republic take their spot on the podium of the Termosteps U16 European Championship Europe will witness something that hasn't happened before.

In short history - This will be the first gold medal for Lithuania this summer after playing all three finals in the youth categories, and their first ever U16 gold medal.

Milan Ryska (Czech Republic)
Milan Ryska has been one of the leades for the Czech Republic but he is one of any number of players who coud hut Lithuania.
If the Czechs win the team from Prague will win a historical and unexpected gold medal.

The Czechs have already made history in their home country by qualifying to the finals.

Their medal tonight, whichever type it is, will be the first ever for Czech basketball.

But they still have hunger for more, and enjoy the underdog feel.

In every match here, other than a single game against Ukraine, they took the court as underdogs and barely but bravely got their win.

In their premier against Greece, the next day against Serbia and the closing day of the first round against the hosts.

Following the easy win over Ukraine came the fight for the semi-final ticket against Spain and once again the Czechs were on top.

In the semi-finals they faced the strong team of Turkey.

Greece, Serbia, Italy, Spain and Turkey - all teams with huge legacy and basketball tradition fell in front of the Czech team spirit and efficient game.

Each one of the above saw the Czechs function better when the heat was on, in the closing minute of a thriller.

None of the Czech wins was by more than five points, and against Turkey it even took an overtime to make it happen.

Lithuania, who leads the competition with the 2nd best offense and best defense, arrive to the finals with the favorites label on their back and lots of self-confidence.

They are the only team here not to drop a game and the smallest margin they held at the buzzer was a ten point win over Spain on opening night.

The 26 point victory over France in the semi-finals sent out a clear message coming into the big game tonight.

This will be the third male youth event this summer in which Lithuania will play the finals, but so far history isn't on their side.

In the U18 championship they lost in the finals to the hosting team from Greece.

A few days later, in the U20 competition, they lost the gold to Serbia.

"According to this summer we have no chance tonight," joked the Lithuanian Head Coach Kazys Maksvytis, but he perfectly knows he has no other option but the gold.

In Vilnius and Kaunas, in the land of basketball, losing to a hosting team as Greece or a giant like Serbia is acceptable, but losing the finals to the Czech Republic, with all due respect, would be a totally different story.

Surprisingly to some this will be Lithuania's first gold medal in an U16 championship after winning only one each in U18 and U20.

In fact this is also the first ever finals for Lithuania in this category.

Both teams will try to forget their last encounter, on the last day of the Qualifying Round, when Lithuania won 76-48.

Since both sides already secured their spot in the semi-finals before the tip off that game didn't reach high levels of intensity.

Peter Balint, the Czech Head Coach who has done a marvelous job with his players in the entire competition, rested most of his main players.

Maksvytis shared the minutes between all 12 players, as none played more than 21.

Balint would like his players to put that defeat behind them to strongly believe they can beat the same team that smashed them by 28 points.

"One of the first things I told my players in the locker-room after the semi-finals is that we must relax from the celebrations quickly, or we could lose again by a big margin," shared Balint.

Maksvytis, on the other side, wouldn't want his side to be over-confident.

"I hope my players will come to the finals ready to fight and don't think about the first game as an example.

"It's not going to be an easy game."

Both teams present a wide range of tools coming to the finals.

It's impossible to point out a single player you must stop to beat either team.

Lithuania shows the 209cm center Jonas Valanciunas, who is one of the best prospects in the championship.

An athletic and long big guy who is dominating the paint here to reach the finals with a 14.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg and 2.3 bpg numbers.

On the other side will wait the 204cm Milan Ryska, who is the top player for the Czechs so far.

In the semi-finals he proved he can bring his game also against a big body like Enes Kanter when he posted 16 points and 11 rebounds.

His tournament figures are 10.6 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 1.3 bpg with five double-doubles so far.

This match-up will be the most intriguing to follow but not the only one.

Vytenis Cizauskas, the strong 188cm guard of Lithuania, leads a very competitive back court.

The semi-finals was his first game here in single digits, but with a 14.3 ppg n 60.7% from two-point range he's a lethal weapon.

He is joined by Dovydas Redikas and Deividas Pukis in a hard nosed defensive effort and a dangerous back court trio.

Who will step up from the Czech team is impossible to know.

One of the first things I told my players in the locker-room after the semi-finals is that we must relax from the celebrations quickly, or we could lose again by a big margin.
Peter Balint
Czech Head Coach

One of Coach Balint's weapons is the fact that every night someone else is doing the job.

Václav Honomichl shocked Greece on opening night in a big fourth quarter.

Jaromír Bohacík and Tomas Vyoral hit the shots in the win over Spain.

Jan Svejda was the star of the semi-finals.

And the list goes on...

If you look over the list of winners in the history of FIBA-Europe's youth championships you find only one case that will give you a "What on earth are THEY doing here?" expression.

In 1994 Belarus won the gold medal of the late U22 European Championship.

The best players who came out of that team were Alexander Koul and Yahor Meshcharakou and they are known only to basketball freaks.

In the other 56 competitions the winner was always from a "classic" basketball country - USSR, Yugoslavia, Serbia, Turkey, Lithuania, Italy, Russia, Spain, Greece etc. etc.

In fact even if you go over the list of finalists the only team that you will find there is Israel with two appearances in the finals of the U20s, and even Israel isn't a team that arrive from the same pool as Belarus and Czech.

Today, in the 22nd finals of the U16 European Championship, at 20:00 CET in Pescara, Italy history will be re-written.

Stay tuned to find out if Lithuania will give the championship's Cinderella a wake up call, or will witness a shocking finish to a great competition.

Follow Us On Twitter

Like Us On Facebook