By Kevin Anselmo
Lithuanian head coach Antanas Sireika´s coaching performance in preliminary round play has been nothing short of remarkable.
After guiding Lithuania to the 2003 EuroBasket championship, Sireika faced the daunting task of defending the title without the services of his star players from two years ago.
Sarunas Jasikevicius and Darius Songaila made themselves unavailable due to NBA commitments while veterans Saulius Stombergas and Eurelijus Zukauskas retired after the Olympics. Making matters worse were tournament-ending injuries to Arvydas Macijauskas and Dainius Salenga.
With just four holdovers from the team of two years ago and a relatively young new squad, Sireika has coached Lithuania to first place in Group B following decisive victories over Turkey, Croatia and Bulgaria.
Sireika now prepares his team for the quarter-finals in Belgrade, where Lithuania will take on the winner of the Serbia-Montenegro-France elimination game.
The 48-year old began his coaching career in 1994 with BC Siauliai. He was named head coach of Zalgiris Kaunas in the middle of the 2002-2003 season and won three national championships in a row from 2003-2005.
|Sireika rates Arvydas Sabonis as the best of all-time|
With the national team, Sireika worked as an assistant from 1997-2001 and was a part of the coaching staff that led Lithuania to a bronze medal in the Sydney Olympics. He was promoted as head coach in 2001.
Sireika revealed some his thoughts on basketball and his personal life for the 24 Seconds feature on fibaeurope.com
FIBA Europe: Can you tell us about your family?
Sireika: I have a wife, Aurelija, who has been one of the individuals that has impacted my life the most. I have a son Arnoldas, 10, and daughter Toma, 16.
FIBA Europe: Which languages do you speak?
Sireika: Lithuanian and Russian.
FIBA Europe: What is the most interesting place you have ever visited?
Sireika: I would have to say Australia.
FIBA Europe: Was being a basketball coach always one of your childhood goals?
Sireika: Actually no. I love sports and always wanted to do something with sports. I remember as a child wanting to be a football goal-keeper.
FIBA Europe: What do you prefer, wine or beer.
Sireika: Beer of course. I come from Lithuania.
FIBA Europe: If you weren’t a basketball coach, what would you be doing?
Sireika: I would probably be coaching a different sport. I can’t imagine my life without sports.
FIBA Europe: What do you normally after a game?
Sireika: Nothing really special. I shake hands with my players whether we win or lose, head back to the hotel for a meal and a beer and then go to sleep.
FIBA Europe: If you could change one rule in basketball, what would it be?
Sireika: I would introduce a new computerized referee. Then I would not have to worry about yelling at officials.
FIBA Europe: Who do you think is the best basketball player of all-time?
Sireika: Arvydas Sabonis.
FIBA Europe: What was the most difficult moment of your coaching career?
Sireika: Losing in Tel Aviv two years ago by three points, which prevented my team from going to the Final Four.
FIBA Europe: What was the best moment in your coaching career?
Sireika: Winning EuroBasket in 2003.