Justė Jocytė is turning 14 this month, but she is already being crowned the supertalent of Lithuanian basketball. The youngest player to be invited to the national team, Jocytė hopes her example will inspire young girls to play basketball.
Jocytė is already training with the national team in Kėdainiai and played her first game on Thursday.
“I was anxious before coming [to the training camp] and had many questions: what's it going to be like, how will they accept me? But everyone was friendly and gradually I became part of the team,” Jocytė tells LRT.lt
She already knew the team's coach, Mantas Šernius.
“The coach was in one of the U-15 camps, we spoke a little, I saw what he was like as a coach. Now I'll be able to know him better. The coach said he would definitely let me play before the game with Albania,” she says.
Jocytė's star rose to the pinnacle of Lithuanian basketball this year. In the summer, the U-16 girls' team, of which 13-year-old Jocytė was one of the key players, won European silver.
She was selected as one of the five most valuable players of the championship. In autumn, she joined Neptūnas Klaipėda and made her debut in the women's league. And now, she has been invited to join the national team.
During qualifications for the 2019 EuroBasket Women, the Lithuanians beat Albanians 119:61 and 146:58. Now, the team is preparing for the 2021 EuroBasket qualifiers, where they are playing, once again, against Albania as well as Turkey and Serbia.
Alvydas Jocys, Justė's father, has previously told LRT.lt that it might still be early for his daughter to face the best adult women basketball players, but a match against Albania is a good way to make her debut in the national team.
Moreover, it is a great example for girls in Lithuania who want to play basketball.
“Girls may think [playing in the national team] is unachievable, but the age difference between myself and them is only a few years and I can show them that through work you can achieve anything,” Jocytė says.
In the Lithuanian Basketball Federation's annual awards Jocytė has the highest score among all the nominees. The 13-year-old is ahead of Lithuania's NBA men Jonas Valančiūnas and Domantas Sabonis.
“I'm a little shocked that so many things happened this year,” she says. “I'm only 13, but I'm coping well, I've already gotten used to it. It's more difficult with the women's national team, more anxiety – these players are adults, I need to take things more seriously.”
There will soon be even more change in Justė's life. She has been offered a three-year spot at Tony Parker's academy in Villeurbanne, France, where she is moving in December.
Her brother, 15-year-old Rokas Jocys, is also living away from home – he is attending a basketball academy in Rome.
“I'm looking forward to that very much, a new stage in my life,” Jocytė says. “My peers leave for another city in Lithuania, and I'm going abroad,” Jocytė says.
A local Lithuanian family, whom she visited with her father, will look after her, she adds.
Otherwise, the players in the academy live together in flats close to the training facilities.
“I really liked the conditions of training and living [in the academy], the way they treat young athletes,” Jocytė says. “Tony Parker himself spoke to me very professionally."
“I want to grow as a basketball player and a person. We'll see how living in another country hardens me.”
She also looks forward to a new regimen in France. In Klaipėda, Jocytė trains after school which is not adapted to her needs. In France, academic work will be combined with training sessions.
“Academic stuff is not really my thing, I've always cared more about sport. I am doing well at school, but I don't like it very much. But there is discipline [in the academy] and I'll need to stick to it, Parker himself told me: if you don't study, you don't play,” Jocytė smiles.
In France, she will also have personal trainers, the role currently performed by her father.
“When we've got a free day, my dad an I go to a gym to work on my throws and dribbling. He prepares me for every match, also psychologically, motivates me. When I have a bad match, we discuss what went wrong and what went well,” Jocytė says. “He has much influence on my game.”
Who is her role model? The French player Marine Johannes who currently plays for New York's Liberty. The Lithuanian met her when she visited the ASVEL Basket club and Tony Parker's academy.
“She was playing when I went there. We exchanged a few words, it was something incredible. She is such a world-class star and she spoke to a simple girl like me.”