The Sea Feast festival in Klaipeda was in full swing, but the coach of the Lithuanian national basketball team, Ramunas Butautas, dismissed the notion of letting his stars hang out a bit and grab a mug of beer, with a grin. "The preparation process for the European basketball championship in Poland is gearing up, and we have very little free time," he says.
Lithuania has been known for its brilliant achievements on the basketball court for decades, and everyone in Lithuania hopes that the new team of young talent will clinch a spot among the best five (and will be contenders for a medal, which is the dream of the most optimistic!), which allows them to compete in the World Championship in Turkey next year.
The architect of the national team sat down with The Baltic Times' correspondent to discuss his chances.
You are the son of an outstanding basketball player and coach, Stepas Butautas, three time European champion. Where are you alike, and different?
All our family is engulfed in basketball. My mom, who is still living, was Sarunas Marciulionis' first coach, an Olympic champion and the first Lithuanian ever to play in the NBA. Without any doubt, my father has made a major impact on my commitment to the game of basketball. As a child, I swallowed each and every word he said, most of the time I just silently watched him. He would come along the lines of the court to me and say: "It works this wayâ€¦" My father's pieces of advice have helped me tremendously in developing myself as coach. But it's hard for me to tell where we are alike and different as coaches. Maybe someone could tell this better, looking from the side?
There are several famous national basketball schools that are highly considered, Lithuanian schools included. Have you ever considered what particular national features make up 'the Lithuanian school?'
The Lithuanian basketball school is highly respected all over Europe. No doubt, we do have a clear spot on the game's map. Many of our best basketball players compete in the very best European basketball clubs. Our coaches are desired all around the continent. Generally speaking, Lithuania's basketball school is described as a promoter of team play, and our players are known for their discipline, the abilities of our sharpshooters, and a quick adaptability to new teams and conditions. It's hard to tell what other basketball school we might be similar to. I believe we have to promote and cherish our national features of the sport.
When you talk, you leave no doubt with anyone about your strong convictions and philosophy of the game. Briefly, can you explain?
First of all, when I start my job as coach in a different team, I tell my players in advance what I expect from them on the basketball court and in life. I set up the rules, which they have to accept. I prefer a smart, disciplined basketball team with an aggressive defense. On the whole, the personality of a player matters a lot to me. Frankly speaking, I hate selfish, lazy, and undisciplined players. I can't stand liars, as well.
Do you promote the same values for your family?
I don't think I am the same in the family. But yes, I am always demanding. You have to set up certain rules for your children in order to bring them up as decent people. Of course, no one blames them for a mistake, but I have to see that my children are eager to improve.
What inspires you? Are you fond of the motivational leaders such as Robin Sarma, Dale Carnegie?
I am not, but Rimas Kurtinaitis [the other coach of the national team] is. It is likely that the best elements of Butautas' generations have been encoded in me: never giving up, wriggling out of the most awkward situations, striving to win - that's me. The most important thing is to believe in what you are doing, set your goal and go for it.
What else could you be good at with such abilities, if you weren't on the court?
When I was younger, I was keen on architecture and design. It is comparatively recently that I have begun to understand that there's much in common between being a basketball coach and an architect.
Let's talk a bit about matters with the Lithuanian national team. Don't you think that the National Basketball Federation should have taken into consideration the ongoing change of the generations, and set less psychologically binding goals for the team in Poland?
Let me put it straight: we haven't experienced any psychological pressures, from anyone. Our men are very highly motivated and are eager to show themselves in the best way possible in the Championship. Considering our basketball traditions and results, we simply can't afford setting small goals for ourselves. I am convinced it would be really very bad if our team didn't qualify for the World Championship next year. So, at the minimum, we have to be among the best five teams. Regardless of the rejuvenation of our national team, we remain a very strong contender in the competition. Trust me, other teams have a good deal of respect for us.
Do you foresee any new leaders on the team who could adequately replace the retired stars of the national team, such as Ramunas Siskauskas, or Sarunas Jasikevicius?
It's a bit too early to point to them. We have had only a few training sessions to shape our game tactics. We are just starting to build up our team play. We are on a long term search. The team leaders will appear soon.
What concerns you most in preparations so far?
So far everything goes as planned. Everything has been thoroughly deliberated upon. I am optimistic about the future.
Can you try to predict the best five teams in the upcoming European Championship?
There are more than five teams that lay claim to the spots. Seven or eight, I guess. First come Spain and Greece, led by another outstanding Lithuanian coach Jonas Kazlauskas. I tend to speak highly about the teams from Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia. No doubt, the winner of the previous European Championship, Russia is very strong. No one can disregard teams such as Turkey or Poland. I do believe that Latvia's team can go very far. Some other teams could be mentioned as well.
You've spent the last four years in Latvia, coaching Riga's ASK. You seem to be following along the lines of the proverb 'Better a big fish in a little pond, than a little fish in a big pond.'
I don't like to put it this way. I've had many lucrative proposals, from the very best foreign clubs. However, if I had accepted their conditions, I would have had to step down as the national team's coach. So far, I don't want to leave the team. Honestly, my work in Riga was quite fulfilling and our results were quite good. I am leaving for Ukraine, Doneck, this season. The local team is very ambitious and, most importantly, they don't demand that I leave the national team.