|05 March 2013|
|Rimantas Kaukenas turns 36 next month and is now considering his future with the Lithuanian national team|
By Dimitris Kontos
"I will be 36 years old in a month and I think we have a lot of talent, a lot of young guys," Rimantas Kaukenas starts very slowly, almost reluctantly, when asked whether he will play for Lithuania at EuroBasket 2013.
The veteran guard picks his words carefully, sighs, shakes his head from time to time.
It's not because he has trouble remembering his birthday is on 11 April, or because he wants to be short on praise for the Baltic nation's promising young generation of players.
It rather looks as if he is breaking up with the love of his life and he can't bring himself to tell her he wants them to still stay friends.
The national team has been a big part of his basketball career and of his - soon to be 36 years' long - life.
"I think it's better that the youngsters play, maybe it's time for the national team to rejuvenate," Kaukenas continues.
"I have not made the decision yet but I pretty much have it in my mind.
"I think I will pass this summer.
"I have not said it officially yet, it will be hard to say it, but I need to rest, physically and mentally."
It's visibly difficult for him to utter these words, but it's also obvious he has given it a lot of thought and has made up his mind.
If head coach Jonas Kazlauskas or Lithuania's notoriously demanding fans pressure him to reconsider, they will hear some very convincing arguments.
"I've had a really difficult start to the season, basically after the injury [he played at the London Olympics] I started in December," Kaukenas explains.
"I've only had one week off, one week in the summer and it's very difficult for me to keep up in good shape and with intensity.
"I am working hard and for me to go on next summer once again, I don't think my body will take it.
"I need to recover and work on my knee so I feel it 100% again, because it's difficult to play for 13-14 months without any time off to recover."
LITHUANIA IN THE TOP FIVE - AND HIGHER
The Zalgiris Kaunas guard might not be on the plane to Slovenia, but that does not mean he will not be watching his 'former love' closely.
His experience of big tournaments makes him very optimistic for Lithuanian chances at next September's EuroBasket, where Lithuania were drawn in First Round Group B, along with Montenegro, Serbia, FYR of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and their Baltic neighbours, Latvia.
"It's never easy, especially with the teams from these Balkan countries who have lots of talent, great coaches and great players," he said.
"Also Latvia is a team that is very talented, so it will not be easy at all.
"But I have faith, I always believe Lithuania can play well as a team.
"I really believe we have a good chance to be in the top five, even to fight for the medals.
"For sure how you start [in the First Round] is important, but the following games are the key to arrive to the quarter-finals and the semi-finals."
|"I really believe we have a good chance to be in the top five, even to fight for the medals," says Kaukenas about his country's hopes for this summer|
SPECIAL MOMENTS IN YELLOW-GREEN
Kaukenas has been adored by his coaches throughout his career, because he is a master at adapting and providing his team with a solid backcourt presence in exactly the form it is required each time.
From his years at Montepaschi Siena, where he was the sharp-shooting scorer that propelled the team to dominance in Italy, to this season in his mid-thirties, back home at Zalgiris, where he comes off the bench.
He has always been an assuring presence on the perimeter for several star-laden Lithuania sides, since he first pulled on the yellow-green jersey in 1995, at the World Championship for Junior Men.
The 1.94m guard made his debut with the senior national team at EuroBasket 2001 and in the years that followed he played in two more EuroBaskets, in 2007 and 2011, and two Olympic Tournaments, in 2008 and 2012.
He was unlucky to miss out on one of the brightest moments of his generation, the EuroBasket 2003 gold medal, but he still has plenty of memories from his summers with Lithuania to last a lifetime.
"I think playing in the Olympics was a special moment, it was too bad that we came short in Beijing and lost to Argentina, [Lithuania lost 87-75 to the Argentines in the bronze medal game in the 2008 Games] but it was still special.
"Obviously the EuroBasket in Spain [in 2007], where we won third place, that was very special too.
"But really, all the time I have been with the national team, even just practicing with the team was special.
"We have a great group of guys and we enjoyed working hard together, enjoyed every moment of just being together, it was very important to me."