|"A trophy is something that you will talk about to your kids, your team-mates; it will stay in your heart." - Rimantas Kaukenas|
By Dimitris Kontos
At around this point last season, when he was still at Zalgiris Kaunas, Lithuanian guard Rimantas Kaukenas was feeling so worn out, that he felt he had to take a long rest and retire from the national team.
After all, Kaukenas was 36 at the time and he turned 37 a few days ago, on 11 April.
Yet there he was, on Friday night in Bologna, displaying the energy of a teenager on the court of PalaDozza arena to help Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia win their EuroChallenge semi-final over Royal Hali Gaziantep.
The Vilnius-born guard certainly didn't look like a tired old man and, in actual fact, he hasn't looked like anything even remotely close to that at any point since joining the Italian EuroChallenge finalists, last December.
"I was tired, but I had my summer break and you know, now I feel full of energy," Kaukenas explained to fibaeurope.com
"I am enjoying my basketball and, physically, my body feels as good as it was 10 years ago.
"I am happy that my physical state lets me play in the way the coaches and the team needs me to play."
The semi-final against Gaziantep was a highly physical affair, which demanded the highest level of intensity from every single player on the court for at least the first 38 minutes.
"We wanted to pick them up early and not give them anything easy, to try to put them into difficulty, that was our plan and we succeeded", Kaukenas said.
"They prepared the game pretty well too, they took away our strengths as well and we played pretty wild in the first two quarters.
"We missed some good shots, we took some shots that we should not have taken, but in the end we came out in the third quarter and we executed well.
"I am very happy for the guys because we showed that we have composure, we have discipline and we have concentration."
These sound exactly like the kind of qualities that can carry a team to the conquest of the title on Sunday.
In order to lift the EuroChallenge trophy though, the Final Four hosts will need to overcome the hurdle of Triumph Lyubertsy in the final.
"Obviously if they play in the VTB league play-offs and there are in the finals here, they are a very good team," Kaukenas said of his team's Russian rivals.
"Every player is a threat and we have to study them well."
|Kaukenas has played three EuroBasket Final Rounds with Lithuania, winning bronze in 2007|
Kaukenas is a player who has won a EuroBasket bronze medal with Lithuania (in 2007), conquered numerous national league titles in Italy and Lithuania, and has taken part in countless Euroleague campaigns.
Sunday's final will not make or break his career, but you would be wrong to think that winning the EuroChallenge matters less to him than for example to his team-mate Ojars Silins, who is still 20 years old.
"It's a trophy and to win a trophy is something you will always remember," the Lithuanian veteran asserted.
"When you grow older, you want to be able to look back and remember that you did whatever it takes to win that.
"Even at times that you lose but you know you gave 100%, then at least you have no regrets.
"But if you try to save yourself, not sacrifice everything, it will probably be something that will haunt you forever.
"A basketball player's career is not long and every opportunity you get you have to do your best.
"A trophy is something that you will talk about to your kids, your team-mates; it will stay in your heart."
THE ITALIAN JOB
The biggest part of Kaukenas's trophy case is filled with silverware he won in Italy, mainly during his two stints at Montepaschi Siena.
He is the typical player who will give that 100% even in an unfavourable situation, like during his spell at Real Madrid.
But, for some reason, this Baltic warrior has played his best basketball in Italy and he continues to do so now in the role of the experienced veteran at Reggio Emilia.
"Every country has a different style of basketball and it's hard to say, but I'd been here for so many years, so probably I learned to play here," Kaukenas said.
"I should probably also say that I adapted to European basketball (he spent four years in the NCAA with Seton Hall) here and I learned everything here, so maybe I need more than one year to adapt to some different kind of way of playing.
"When you look back, I changed countries in the beginning quite a lot because I always wanted to go to a team that I would get a lot of playing time and learn quicker.
"But I think it's Italy where my family really found the best way of life and we were happy.
"I think that's maybe the key, to be happy."