Lithuanian teams struggle to earn back reputation

  • 2006-01-25
  • By Tassos Coulaloglou
VILNIUS - Both Kaunas Zalgiris and Vilnius Lietuvos Rytas added a player to their roster after losing sloppy games in week 11 of Euroleague play. It was the first time all season that both Lithuanian basketball teams lost during the same week of European competition.

Zalgiris relinquished a share of first place in Euroleague's Group A on Jan. 19, losing 82 's 76 to Benetton Treviso in Italy. The loss came only days after they fired point guard Ed Cota for disciplinary reasons and one week after Larry Ayuso voluntarily left the team. The American duo accounted for more than 14 points per game in Euroleague play.

Kaunas addressed their need for a top playmaker and leader with the acquisition of National Basketball Association veteran Kenny Anderson on Jan. 21. This will be Anderson's first season out of an NBA uniform since college. He has scored more than 10,000 points in 15 professional seasons, but has not averaged double digits in points since playing for the Boston Celtics in 1999-2000.

"He's 35, so he's not very old," said Zalgiris Vice President, Gediminas Navikauskas. The point guard should be in good shape because he was trying to make the NBA until January 10th."

Anderson is best known to Zalgiris basketball fans for having been a teammate of legendary Lithuanian basketball player and Zalgiris team president, Arvydas Sabonis. The two played together for a season and a half with the Portland Trail Blazers between 1996 and 1998, before Anderson was traded to Boston.

"The biggest problem we had with our point guards was that we couldn't pass the ball to the taller players," said Navikauskas. "There were ten players that we considered. Kenny Anderson was the best suited [for the team]."

Lietuvos Rytas also hope their new player will provide the spark necessary to make a run in the Euroleague round of 16. After losing a defensive battle in Greece to Olympiakos, 65 's 63 on Jan. 18, the Vilnius team signed point guard Maurice Baker for the remainder of the season.

The 26-year-old Baker played 34 games last year with the Dakota Wizards of the Continental Basketball Association, a secondary league in the United States, before coming to Lietuvos Rytas. He averaged 17.4 points, 7 assists, and 5.4 rebounds and was a member of the All-CBA 1st Team last season. He also was a member of the U.S. National Basketball Team that won bronze in the 2001 World University Games.

"He's very fast and good defensively. His task on the team will be to substitute for our main point guard [Roberts Stelmahers]," said Jonas Vainauskas, General Manager of Lietuvos Rytas.

Both Zalgiris and Rytas have qualified for the round of 16, which begins on Feb. 22, but both sides will look to debut their new players this week in Euroleague competition.