|17 July 2011|
U20 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP
|A split second can make a big difference in basketball, never mind an entire week. Just ask World Champion Dovydas Redikas, who finds himself fighting for survival with Lithuania in the U20 European Championship|
The number of competitions a player can participate in during a single summer is limited to two, to avoid an excessive physical burden that could damage their career.
Yet not a lot of people can imagine the possible roller-coaster ride one can experience by participating in two events in one summer.
Lithuania's Dovydas Redikas and Arnas Butkevicius are right now on the lower side of the roller-coaster after finishing last in the Qualifying Round of the U20 European Championship Men.
Exactly one week ago however, they experienced one of the best times any player at any age group can hope to go through.
Everyone who plays in one of the summer events with his national team dreams to win the gold medal and enjoy the spotlight of his nation, even if only for a short time.
Among the players participating in the U20 European Championship in Bilbao those two Lithuanians already got the chance to taste what it's like to climb on the Olympus of World basketball, and they reached that top goal the previous Sunday with the National Team of their country that won the U19 FIBA World Championship in Riga, Latvia.
Redikas had the more active role in the duo and finished the tournament with 12 ppg, 4.9 rpg and 3.1 apg, and talking with fibaeurope.com here in Bilbao he shared some of his memories of the close past and thoughts on the near future.
"Winning the World Championship gold medal was a dream coming true," he shares, "but it was not a very easy task."
"We started the championship actually with a loss, and we are very unused to lose games," he refers to the 1992 generation of Lithuania that already won gold medal in the U16 and U18 European Championships.
"But looking back it was a good thing for us, because it felt like a cold shower and woke us up. We continued from there and gained more and more confidence."
What stood out in this rush to gold was the mass support Lithuania had from their fans even outside their own country, who eventually filled out the Arena Riga and its over 11,000 capacity in the title game of what is still a youth championship.
Probably a record attendance for such event.
"Our fans filled the gym in the first group already, but the games were played very close to the border with Lithuania so it didn't surprise us that much," yet nobody was prepared for what's about to come later in the competition.
"There were lots of fans coming already for the semi-finals but when we heard the tickets for the final game were sold out it really excited us."
"I can't explain the feeling to win a World Championship in front of a full arena of fans who push you the way our fans do."
Even for a country used to gold medals in basketball, winning a world title is still unique and the members of the team earned a parade on an open bus upon their return to Vilnius, similar to the one the senior team had back in 2003 after winning EuroBasket.
Yet Redikas and Butkevicius didn't have a lot of time to celebrate and quickly joined the U20 team as the only young members on the squad.
Very soon the great memories from Riga were replaced with a great blow, and in one week from great heroes the duo became part of the team that put a black stain on the great tradition of Krepsinis nation.
For the first time in history, a Lithuania national team will play against relegation to Division B.
Lithuania finished last in their group, but they aren't the only powerhouse to get that blow.
Serbia, the champion of the U16 and U18 European Championships with this generation, will also be present as well as another surprising guest - Croatia.
The underdog Austria will complete the picture as the four teams will try to avoid the last two spots that lead to Division B.
Shockingly if Austria had beaten Turkey on Day 2, a scenario that was very close to happen, it would have been another powerhouse - Turkey - to play in that round from which two teams drop.
Somehow the 13-16 Classification Round became perhaps a phase as equally as fascination as the final stages in 2011.
Ironically Lithuania can find themselves in a situation where the U19 team won the World Championship while their U20 team drop down to an uncharted land in a span of less than two weeks.
"We're not playing 'Lithuanian basketball' so far," admits Redikas.
"We can lose to Spain, Italy, France and teams that have a tradition of good basketball, but we can't accept other losses," he says openly.
"We must get back to play 'Lithuanian basketball', to play our game and style, if we want to win games here."
In order to keep the golden generation of 1992, a generation that won every tournament so far, from playing Division B next season Redikas and co. will have to find the way to send another powerhouse to the lower division.
It will be anything but easy.