03/08/2014
Jeff Taylor's Eurovision

A tip of the hat to the great Saras

VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - We should all pause and reflect on the remarkable career of Sarunas Jasikevicius.

When reports surfaced this week that the 38-year-old had decided to retire and get into coaching, I was reminded of how tough and single-minded he has been.

He is certainly one of the all-time greats from his country when it comes to international basketball, and we’re talking about a nation that has legends like Arvydas Sabonis.

Having seen him play for the Maryland Terrapins, one of my first looks at him in a Lithuania jersey was in 1998,  at the FIBA World Championship in Athens.

That Lithuania team wasn't a great one, but what I remember most from Jasikevicius was a little shoving match he had with a Russian player after his side's 82-67 defeat.

He was young and smaller than most of the players on the court at the time yet Jasikevicius was letting everyone know that he wasn't going to be pushed around.

Then there was 2000, when Jasikevicius showed up at the Sydney Olympics and very nearly led his squad past the United States in the Semi-Finals.

In 2003, he led Lithuania to the EuroBasket title in Sweden and garnered the honor as the tournament's most valuable player.

In the Final, Lithuania beat a Spain team that had an emerging center named Pau Gasol, an extraordinary shooting guard named Juan Carlos Navarro and plenty of other terrific youngsters like Jose Calderon and Felipe Reyes.

Maybe the best moment of Jasikevicius' career came at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

He didn't just come close to leading Lithuania past the United States in the Preliminary Round, but grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and fired his country to a famous victory.

Saras was the man of the moment in Greece.

Journalists from all over, especially from Lithuania and the United States, hung on his every word.

His most telling remark to me after the win over the USA was a comparison about his American college experience with Maryland and European basketball.

He said that had he not gone to play in the NCAA and instead launched his professional career in Europe, he would have been beaten up in practice on a daily basis.

That  would have, he said, toughened him up faster.

On the other hand, he travelled to the United States and learned a different style of the game and enjoyed the NCAA experience.

Remembering his college days, he was a good passer of the ball.

Jasikevicius, late in his career, put on clinics with his no-look passes, and his give-and-go passes with the likes of Jonas Valanciunas.

You have to hail Jaskevicius for his many championships won as a European basketball player.

His Euroleague title-winning performances with Barcelona and Maccabi Tel Aviv are unforgettable.

He was the MVP of the Euroleague 2005 Final Four and won that competition four times.

It's going to be interesting to see how he does as a coach.

He has joined the Zalgiris Kaunas staff, but it won't be long before he becomes the head coach of a team.

I'm guessing at some point, he'll hold the reins of Lithuania's national team and that will be fun to watch.

Jeff Taylor

FIBA

FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.

FIBA takes no responsibility and gives no guarantees, warranties or representations, implied or otherwise, for the content or accuracy of the content and opinion expressed in the above article.

Jeff Taylor

Jeff Taylor

Jeff Taylor, a North Caroline native and UNC Chapel Hill graduate, has been a journalist since 1990. He started covering international basketball after moving to Europe in 1996. Jeff provides insight and opinion every week about players and teams on the old continent that are causing a buzz.

COMMENTS