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Linas KLEIZA (LTU)
7th place game of 2006 FIBA World Championship, Saitama, Japan. Lithuania vs Germany. 030906
03/09/2006LTU - Kleiza: "This was a great learning experience for our young team"

SAITAMA (FIBA World Championship) - Lithuania had hoped for a medal, but their seventh place finish at the FIBA World Championship after a 77-62 triumph over Germany on the last day of the tournament is something to build on for a team in transition.

Lithuania, best known for winning three straight Olympic bronze medals from 1992 to 2000 and winning the 2003 EuroBasket in Stockholm, saw captain Saulius Stombergas and center Eurelijus Zurauskas retire after the Athens Olympics.

Sarunas Jasikevicius hasn't played the past two years, either, although he may make himself available next year when the EuroBasket is staged in Spain.

What we did see in Japan was the introduction of promising youngsters Linas Kleiza, Mantas Kalnietis and Paulius Jankunas.

We also watched veterans Arvydas Macijauskas and Darius Songaila make their return to the national side after missing last year's EuroBasket in Serbia & Montenegro.

Kleiza, 21, is sure to have a big role in this team next year.

He averaged 10.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, saving some of his best performances for the knockout stages.

Kleiza went for 15 points, 14 rebounds and five assists against Spain, although that quarter-final defeat was a mauling.

He also had 16 points and seven rebounds in Lithuania's win over Germany.

Kleiza spoke to Simon Wilkinson on behalf of FIBA after that seventh place game.

FIBA: This is an encouraging way to finish the competition for Lithuania.

Kleiza: "It definitely is good to end our tournament on a high, with a win against a great side like Germany because we are a young team still trying to figure itself out."

FIBA: What were you able to do against Germany that perhaps you didn't do against other teams?

Kleiza: "The main thing we did today that we haven't done in recent games is just play our game, get a good lead and maintain it. We made our shots and we defended well."

FIBA: This is your first experience of international basketball. Do you feel you've learned a lot?

Kleiza: "Yes, I learned an awful lot. This kind of experience will only help our team become better. We also have our point guard, Mantas Kalnietis, who is only 19 and this was a very big test for him. He was basically trying to fill Sarunas Jasikevicius' shoes."

FIBA: Speaking of Jasikevicius, do you think at all about how far you would have gone had he played?

Kleiza: "I think things would have been different, but in a good way if he had played. It's hard to know how much better we would have performed, but I think we could have gone a bit further with him."

FIBA: The Spain game wasn't close, but losing to Turkey in overtime must have hurt.

Kleiza: "Well, I think the only game we should have lost was the one against Spain. We were expected to lose that one and we did. It was a shame to lose against Turkey in the first classification game, but that's the way it goes sometimes."

FIBA: Are you optimistic about Lithuania's future?

Kleiza: "Yes I feel we have a very good group of guys and we just need a chance to play together more. As I said before, this is a young team and you have to keep that in mind and be patient. But I hope we'll do well at the European Championship next year."

FIBA: What are your thoughts about the final between Greece and Spain?

Kleiza: "It will be hard for Spain since they are missing Pau Gasol. But we'll have to see. It's good to see two European teams in the finals. It shows that the level is as good in Europe as it is in other parts of the world."

By Simon Wilkinson, FIBA

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