Five facts that I love about Lithuanian basketball

Tradition, history, solid outputs and world-class players and coaches – these are just a few of the main characteristics of the Lithuanian basketball school. What follows is intended to be a reflection on my various interactions with Lithuanian basketball as part and as a result of various coaching activities I was involved there (attendance at coaching clinics; coaching at camps; spectator at European and international events; teaching; etc.). The main aim is to share some of these experiences and, by reaching out to the international basketball community, to stimulate discussions and share opinions on various basketball-related topics.

There are several aspects that I love about Lithuanian basketball but the most important five facts are listed below:

  1. Knowledgeable coaches. This applies to coaches who operate at all levels, from the junior team coaches all the way to the coaches of the national teams. Generally speaking, it is not easy to quantify how much knowledge someone has on a particular field but after talking to Lithuanian basketball coaches you will be pleasantly surprised to realise that they know a lot about this game.

  2. Defence (and fundamentals of the game). In every discussion with a Lithuanian coach, the conversation will contain the word “defence” for sure. It is interesting to see how much emphasis they put on the defence and on teaching the fundamentals of the game. I would add the word “correctly” – teaching correctly the fundamental elements of the game, including shooting, dribbling, passing, tactics, etc. And this aspect will help you understand why the Lithuanian teams and the Lithuanian players are so good when it comes to playing against them and trying to score against them – they focus on defence more than on anything else!

  3. They all love their National Team. Everywhere around the world, the National Team is something every player aspires to be part of. And this is the case for Lithuania too, throughout the country, within the basketball world and outside of it too. And no matter if you are a basketball fan or not – the Lithuanians love their men National Team (we will discuss and focus on women basketball on another occasion). And they are very proud of the successes of this team – and there are plenty of reasons to celebrate: just look in the history books to see how many times they won trophies and championships! Quite remarkable for such a small nation of 3 million people, isn’t it?

  4. Respect for coaches coming from players and parents. “The coach knows what we need to do in order to improve and get better!” – you will hear this sentence quite a lot when talking to different age players. And the same message comes from parents too. Of course, there will be parents who “know everything” and might give coaches a hard time, but overall I was impressed with how much parents trust the coaches who are in charge of developing their children – and the results of this development can be seen everywhere around the world with numerous Lithuanian players being reliable and trustworthy contributors in the leagues they play in.

  5. A truly basketball culture. Everywhere you go in Lithuania you will experience a true, proper, wonderful basketball culture. Basketball here is like a religion. Other sports struggle to have the same participation numbers as basketball does; and the comparison in relation to trophies, medals and performances – no other sport in this small Baltic country can even dream to be on the same level with the achievements of basketball! Similar to football in Western countries, basketball here dominates TV channels. Apart from this, Lithuania is amongst the few countries on the planet where basketball dominates the front page of the newspapers! It is amazing to see how young and old, men and women, they all come together and enjoy watching basketball spectacle! The overview of the rules is not in the match programmes for sure – as it happens in other countries. A few examples that demonstrate their love for basketball – 13000 spectators gathered in Siemens Arena in Vilnius on 1st August 2010 to watch an Under 18 basketball game! Well, it was not any random game but the final of the U18 European Championship Division A, a game that saw Jonas Valanciunas (MVP of the tournament) and his generation winning the gold medal in their encounter against Russia (Lithuania won 90-61). Quite clearly an attendance milestone that is difficult to reach again in another country! A more recent example – Zalgirio Arena. The beautiful arena in Kaunas has been sold out for almost every Euroleague game this last season! One last example and a link to my previous point (fact 3): a sea of green, yellow and red T-shirts fill to capacity any arena where and when the National Team plays! SEE PHOTO 1.

For any coach that wants to progress and develop his/her understanding of basketball my advice is simple – try to experience Lithuanian basketball in any way, shape or form. You will not regret it! You will soon find yourself inspired by the chanting: Lietuva! Lietuva!

By Alex Radu

PHOTO: Zalgirio Arena during a friendly game between Lithuania and Spain – July 2016. (personal archive)

Alex Radu is a Senior Lecturer in Sports Coaching Basketball at University of Worcester (England/UK). He has coached various teams at different levels of the game at both club and national team level, including Cardiff Archers (Associate Head Coach – in WBBL/Women Basketball League, UK); Worcester Wolves (Assistant Coach – in BBL /British Basketball League, UK); Romania U20 Women National Team (Assistant Coach) and Romania U18 Women National Team (Assistant Coach – at European Championship Division B); Wales U20 Men National Team (Head Coach) and Wales Senior Men National Team (Assistant Coach – at European Championship for Small Countries); Romania Women National Team (Assistant Coach – at Women Eurobasket 2015).