The journey of the Lithuanian men’s basketball team towards the Olympic dream has begun on Wednesday.
All fourteen candidates of the national team arrived to Kaunas, where they have immediately started the training camp in preparation for the Olympic qualifying tournament, which will take place on June 29th – July 4th in the „Žalgiris” arena.
Two NBA centers, who were the first to finish their seasons have also joined the training camp – Memphis „Grizzlies” center Jonas Valančiūnas, and one of the Indiana „Pacers” leaders – Domantas Sabonis.
„We need to have fun and enjoy our time here”, – said J. Valančiūnas. – Sometimes you need to do a lot of things in a good mood. It’s fun to get back in here after a longer break, last year was a very strange summer, we finally got back to a more normal rhythm. It’s fun to go back to the national team, to see familiar faces – coaches, staff, players, I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
Speaking about the free time that players could have enjoyed before coming to Kaunas, the team leaders did not complain – they had enough of it.
„We managed to get some rest, unconventional holidays. Never had so little holidays, but it is what it is. Feel fairly rested, everything is fine and ready to get to work”, – said Jonas Valančiūnas.
„I had one week off, and then I started playing sports again,” – said Domantas Sabonis about his vacation. „I had three free weeks to get back in shape.”
Preparation for the Olympic qualifiers will be unusually short – it will take less than two weeks. Therefore, according to Valančiūnas, now the main task of the team is to find and build team chemistry. There is no time for personal development.
„It takes playing time to feel each other. We do not have enough time to work on the individual skill. We simply have to work on our team play and tactics. Everything will be fine”, – said J. Valančiūnas.
In the group stage Lithuanians will face Venezuela and South Korea. In the next group B, teams from Poland, Angola and Slovenia will compete. Valančiūnas has outlined Slovenian national team as the strongest team from the pack.
„It is no a secret that the Slovenian national team is really strong. Everyone is waiting, everyone is following them. We do not underestimate any team, but we highlight Slovenia. It is possible to stop Doncic, but he is playing very well. What we saw at the end of the season was really an outstanding performance, but we’ll see what he can do with the national team.”
„Every single game is important. We have to reach the finals and then we have to win it, we can’t think that only one team will be strong, because we have to be careful with everyone. It will be difficult to stop him (Doncic). His talent is extremely high, we will have to play good team defence and work together to win.”
J. Valančiūnas also mentioned importance of the home crowd. According to the player, the army of fans that will fill most of the Žalgiris arena should give the team an extra momentum.
„Our fans have always been our strength. Wherever we played, the arenas were full of green dressed fans. It is important and gratifying that they will return to the arena and will be able to support us”, – J. Valančiūnas expressed his expectations.