Solopova Having Fun Winning With Lithuania
Marina Solopova shows a cameraman her arm looking for a confirmation of a hard foul. The gesture results in a referee warning from the Lithuania guard. But it's all part of the show for Solopova, who is pleasing basketball and entertainment fans at the U20 European Championship for Women.
"I like to have fun. I play for the public and the people who came to watch the game. And I think they like what they see," said Solopova, whose tournament-leading 22.2 points and team-leading 3.5 assists and 2.7 steals have guided Lithuania into a quarter-final showdown with France.
"And I will always play like this in the future."
Lithuanian fans have to be happy if Solopova means playing as well as she has in Latvia - actually in the past as well.
In 2008, Solopova was the second-leading scorer for the Lithuanian team which won the U18 European Championship in Slovakia. And the Klaipeda native was one of nine players from that U18 side to play at the U19 FIBA World Championship for Women in Thailand, where Lithuania beat Thailand, Brazil and France on their way to an eighth-placed finish.
"It was a great experience for our team because now we are better," said Solopova, who was the team's leading scorer and fourth overall with 15.2 points at the U19 Worlds.
"We are playing like a real team. We play every summer together and only have a couple of players changed out. (In Thailand) we learned that there are great players everywhere and we have to play hard every game."
Solopova now is in Liepaja with the same nine-player core from Slovakia and Thailand.
Solopova has played with much of the group even more than just at the youth national team level.
Six of them play at Lithuanian top flight club Lemminkainen Klaipeda, which is coached by the U20 women's national team coach Ramune Kumpiene and played the last two seasons in the EuroCup.
"I have known most of them since we were 12 years old. We know what each player can do. That's good for us. It helps us play like a team," said Solopova.
That teamwork and past success have made Lithuania into a top contender for the title. They failed to close out the game against Turkey in the final first round match and then lost a second time in the final qualifying round game against mighty Spain.
But the goal is clear.
"We want to reach the final four and then if possible win the gold medal," said Solopova, who is a free agent still looking for a club for next season.
Once the championship in Latvia is over, Solopova will head to the senior national team camp in hopes of making the Lithuanian team for the 2011 EuroBasket Women qualifiers against Belgium, Croatia, Italy and the Netherlands.
"I will go in to the camp and show what I can do best," said Solopova.
"I have to work very hard to prove that I can play. The coach can believe in me and I will show what I can do for the team."
One thing is certain, despite being a newcomer Solopova will likely try to play up the crowd and show one and all that she is having fun on the court.