News

2013.01.24 09:35

Lithuania is loosing basketball and football talent?

15min.lt 2013.01.24 09:35

The Lithuanian national football team has been waiting for years for a new Arminas Narbekovas, Valdas Ivanauskas, or Deividas Šemberas – in vain. Meanwhile the basketball team, too, has seen its international rankings drop, failing to find adequate replacements for the likes of Ramūnas Šiškauskas, Saulius Štombergas, or Šarūnas Jasikevičius.

The Lithuanian national football team has been waiting for years for a new Arminas Narbekovas, Valdas Ivanauskas, or Deividas Šemberas – in vain. Meanwhile the basketball team, too, has seen its international rankings drop, failing to find adequate replacements for the likes of Ramūnas Šiškauskas, Saulius Štombergas, or Šarūnas Jasikevičius.

Football bodies are already scouting for revolutionary solutions to avert Lithuania's decline on the pitch and to grow more talent. By contrast, moods are relatively quiet in the basketball world, even though experts warn that here, too, the doom might be near.
 
Artificial springboard
 
It is not only Lithuania's national football  team that is short on talent – youngster teams also often hopelessly lose to peers from other countries.
 
Stasys Stankus, technical department director of the Lithuanian Football Federation, has come forward with an idea. He suggested that clubs in the A League be obliged to have at least one under-19 player in the field.
 
His argument is the following: under the Soviets, a similar rule applied to teams in the country's championship and the scheme helped supply Žalgiris Vilnius with many good players. At the moment, it would be a great help to the under-19 team preparing for the European championship which will be hosted by Lithuania.
 
The football community, however, is suspicious of the plan. Some, like Vidmantas Murauskas, president of Sūduva Marijampolė, which even today boasts a number of young players on its roaster, and Saulius Lesnickas, director of Šiauliai club, have endorsed the project.
 
Leaders of Banga Gargždai would agree to accept the novelty, provided they were not obliged to use pupils of the National Football Academy (NFA), as the team has its own young talent.
 
Meanwhile Tauras Tauragė and Atlantas Klaipėda people are sceptical. Ekranas Panevėžys, the country's current champion, and vice-champion Žalgiris Vilnius vehemently oppose the idea of building an artificial springboard for younger players.
 
More questions than answers
 
“I do not believe that the Lithuanian championship is strong enough to withstand such blows,” Ekranas president Aušrys Labinas smiles sourly. Valdas Dambrauskas, who is regarded as one of the brightest coaches of young players, concurs: “It might sound like a beautiful idea, but I do not see how to it could be realized. The young player can get injured during a game. That means that a coach must have another player of his age on the bench, as replacement. Besides, the coach's goal is results. Just like other coaches, I send my best eleven players to the field. Why should I send someone who is number sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen?”
 
Vilma Venslovaitienė, executive director of Žalgiris Vilnius, seconds him: “First of all, it is very forced. Second, there are technical details. If you want to give one spot to a youngster, you must have five or six candidates. Cards, traumas, school. In their age, one day they may play brilliantly and the next – not so much. That means that League A requires 50-60 young players. Where are we to get them from?”
 
Pyramids to save basketball
 
The Lithuanian basketball team gave the worst Olympic performance in its history in London last summer. True, the under-20 team triumphed at the European championship even without the magnificent Jonas Valančiūnas, but younger teams fared worse.
 
Despite these disturbing developments, the Lithuanian basketball waters have been much less stormy than in football.
 
“Correct me if I am wrong, but footballers built their National Academy on the money they got from powerful international bodies of their sport,” Secretary General of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation Mindaugas Balčiūnas says (15min talked to him before corruption charges were brought against him). “We do not have such possibilities. We tackle our problems the way we can – we build structural mini-pyramids. The first one should shortly start working in Šiauliai. At its top is 'Šiauliai' basketball club with its sponsors, bellow – teams from the county that play in the National and Regional Leagues. And the base is the basketball school, which was separated from the city's sports school along with all its funds.”
 
Balčiūnas says that similar schemes should be introduced in other towns, too. It could guarantee efficient self-regulation mechanism and an incentive to strive for best results.
 
Linas Kvedaravičius, director of Sakalai Vilnius club, believes that Lithuanian basketball does not need a big pyramid on the national level: “At the moment, many youngster teams have strong players. There is no point in concentrating all the talent in one place – many a young player would lose leadership skills and such a team would have no one to compete with in a national championship.”
 
Weak technique
 
Basketball authorities do not make drama out of frequently-voiced remarks that, save for Jonas Valančiūnas and Donatas Motiejūnas, Lithuania has failed to nurture super talent in recent years. “I believe that the situation is not bad right now, as the gap between leaders and other players is not as big as it used to be,” Balčiūnas comments.
 
Šarūnas Sakalauskas, senior coach at Šarūnas Marčiulionis Basketball Academy, begs to differ: “Basketball as it is played today is much faster than before. Therefore technique plays a more important role, while our young players start lagging behind because they spend more time playing than training, which deprives them of opportunities to polish their technique.”
 
Sakalauskas says he can observe problems that have befallen the Lithuanian basketball when he watches youth national teams play or train in international camps, like the one in Treviso. There, he says, Lithuania's best young players fail to stand out from hundreds of youths from other countries.
 
“We should upgrade our ways of selecting kids. A good first step would be to create one database of players. However, there is not even a debate on the subject yet – except our occasional chat about the problems in the Academy,” Sakalauskas regrets.
 
Good life is bad
 
Martynas Juocevičius, who works as a spokesperson for Šarūnas Marčiulionis Basketball Academy, thinks that the problems with raising new talent have to do with changes in quality of life and the resulting shift in attitudes: “Coaches at our academy, who once played in Statyba Vilnius club, keep telling those kids that they would play differently if they were assigned one pair of basketball shoes a year, exercised in unheated rooms, and had but one dream – to make it to the top team of their county. At the same time, they have to talk to parents of 10- or 12-year-olds, who are positively convinced that their kids will play in Barcelona or even perhaps the NBA and sign 8-million-dollars-a-season contracts.”
 
Juocevičius recalls the incredulity with which he is met whenever he says that only one talented kid out of a hundred makes it to a mid-level professional basketball team – and of the hundred of those who do, one advances to an elite club. “To be more precise, they believe that others can and do lose in the lottery, but are convinced that their case is exceptional.”
 
Balčiūnas, too, attributes many a failed or floundering basketball career to the rules of modern sport business: “Some of them are difficult to talk to, with so many factors interfering, like agents and money.”
 
System works?
 
Despite hazards and uninspiring performance curve of the national team, basketball people do not rush to sound the alarm.
 
“The system works fine. Envy and admiration we receive from foreigners when we tell them about our school students league show that things are going well,” Kvedaravičius believes.
 
“In recent years, we have achieved much in championships of various age groups – we should soon overtake the Serbs in the ranking and reclaim number two spot in the world. Our national men's team is number five in the world,” Balčiūnas says. “I don't think it's bad. We have built a system to nurture players, now we have to preserve and improve it.”
 
15 min.