Lithuania is considered by many as the top contender to win the gold in Brno. Last summer the Lithuanians won the silver medal in the World Championship for juniors, and since the same big names from last year are here as well, the expectations are high.
One of the two big names in the Lithuanian roster is Paulius Jankunas, a forward from Kaunas came to Brno after finishing his first season with the senior local team – Zalgiris. Jankunas is the best rebounder in the competition so far with 11.8 rebounds per game. His 13 points per game set him as one of the only two players to hold to average a double-double in this competition. In 4 out of 6 games he’s put up 2 digits in scoring and rebounding including 20 points and 16 rebounds in the preliminary match against Slovenia – the team that will stand tomorrow between Lithuania and a place in the finals.
Lithuania won that game 65-69, with Jankunas dominating the match-up against one of the other top players in the competition – Erazem Lorbek who had only 12 points and 8 rebounds in that game. These two met also in the Junior European Championship in 2002 and back then it was Lorbek who had the upper hand and Slovenia won by 16 points. Jankunas doesn’t consider his team as a favorite, and believes all 4 teams in the Semi-finals have a fair chance to win the gold, but his mind is already set on the third match-up against Lorbek.
After winning silver medal in World Championship for Juniors, did you feel big expectations back home?
"In Lithuania there are always big expectations to bring home a medal. Since we finished second in the world competition people think that we have to win this championship."
So you feel as the favorites here?
"No, we don’t think so, but we came here to win. Each game we try to prove that we deserve it, but we don’t think that we are the biggest favorites. Slovenia is a very good team, Israel plays very smart and Greece played great in the first round. All four teams can win the championship."
Do you plan anything special for the big match up against Erazem Lorbek tomorrow?
"We will see what happen. I always try to play hard, and try to play very hard in offense, to force him to work hard on defense, and then have less energy on the other side. I’m sure he will try to do the same thing against me on the other side."
What about rebounding? Where did you pick up this talent?
"I just go out there and it’s all in my head, I just want to get the rebound. The first things for me when I play are the take the rebound and defense. It’s true that I take a lot of rebounds on the floor and not above the rim. I just try to move quickly and maybe it’s a little bit luck too."
Your teammate Linas Kleiza is playing in the USA in college, does he bring something different from there?
"He’s playing better one-on-one now. He makes more points and draws a lot of fouls from the defense. It’s fun for me to play with him, because whenever he’s around my man has to try to help defend him, so I get more easy shots."
You played in the first team of Zalgiris this season and got to be next to one of all the time greatest – Arvydas Sabonis, what was it like for you?
"It’s wonderful. Four years ago I had this dream that one day I’ll have the chance to play with Sabas, and it came true. It’s great to be with him in the same team. He has taught me a lot, and helped me improve my game all the time. He always has good tips on how to defend, how to score more easily and all that."