By Kevin Anselmo
Many questions surround the EuroBasket defending champion Lithuanian team. Some answers should be provided in Lithuania's first game when they take on Turkey in Podgorica on Friday evening.
Lithuanian basketball stars and key components to their success at international tournaments in recent years will be unavailable in the 2005 EuroBasket.
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 for Lithuania were tournament-ending injuries to sharpshooter Arvydas Macijauskas and Dainius Salenga.
Despite the uncertainties of where scoring and leadership will come from, Lithuanian head coach Antanas Sireika remains positive.
|Darius Songaila will not be at EuroBasket |
"We are still the defending champions and we know how to fight," he said.
The relatively young and inexperienced Lithuanian team will have an immediate challenge in taking on Turkey's deep front court featuring Mehmet Okur and outstanding all around talent Hedo Turkoglu.
"Our men will fight valiantly and they will try not disappoint our supporters," Sireika said.
Turkey enters their first EuroBasket game on a positive note following an impressive pre-tournament exhibition schedule, which included an 81-56 Efes Cup victory over Italy.
"This (EuroBasket) is real important for us, for our country and Turkish basketball," Okur said.
A solid first game against the defending champions should provide a big confidence boost for a team that finished second in EuroBasket 2001 before failing to finish in the top eight during in 2003.
GAME: B2 – Turkey vs. Lithuania
RECORDS: Turkey 0-0, Lithuania 0-0
KEY MATCH-UP: Robertas Javtokas, one of Lithuiania’s most experienced returning players, will attempt to slow down Mehmet Okur, who is considered one of the top big men in all of Europe.
INJURIES: LTU –Arvydas Macijauskas will miss EuroBasket due to an ankle injury. Dainius Salenga will also miss the competition because of sprained knee ligaments.
STATS: In the five qualifying games for EuroBasket 2005, Hedo Turkoglu was 10-17 from 3 point range and averaged 18.6 points per game.
OTHER NOTES: Sarunas Jasikevicius, Darius Songaila, Saulius Stombergas and Arvydas Macijauskas, all of whom are unavailable for Eurobasket 2005, accounted for more than half of the offensive production for Lithuania in the 2004 Olympics. The four players averaged 50.7 of the team’s 97 points per game.