Meet Lithuania’s Unexpected Heroes Who Outshone the USA

Meet Lithuania's Unexpected Heroes Who Outshone the USA

The charm of major events like the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 lies in the journeyman professionals who come together to showcase their best talents against well-known stars.

You’ve probably heard the comparisons— a nation with fewer than 3 million people defeating the country that has long dominated in basketball. One current NBA player, Jonas Valanciunas, is against 12 NBA players, many of whom are stars in their own right.

But when you step onto a FIBA court, none of that matters. Whether you move from one European team to another every summer or play under a multi-million dollar contract, for those 40 minutes, it’s about your team, your country’s name on your jersey, and your skills.

It’s not as one-sided as it might seem. Some Lithuanian players like Deividas Sirvydis, Donatas Motiejunas, Ignas Brazdeikis, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas have NBA experience. Rokas Jokubaitis, drafted into the NBA, has proven himself as one of Europe’s top guards.

But let’s give credit to all the other Lithuania players who proved they could hold their own against the best and secured a remarkable victory against the USA.

Vaidas Kariniauskas, a name now known to World Cup followers, spent his last season in Romania but had played in five different countries before turning 28. He casually mentioned Spencer Reaves as his inspiration for some trash talk after the game. His 15 points in the game make us want to call him “Vaidas Curry-niauskas.”

Tomas Dimsa, who once played alongside LaMelo Ball, turned into a three-point sharpshooter. His 3-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc was the best among Lithuania’s impressive 14-of-25 performance from three-point range. Yes, that’s the same Dimsa who played with LaMelo in 2017-18 for Vytautas Prienai, a team that finished last in Lithuania that year. Dimsa has since returned to BC Zalgiris, Lithuania’s top team.

Speaking of three-pointers, Eimantas Bendzius, the son of former sharpshooter Gintautas Bendzius, stepped up when Lithuania needed it most. He sank a critical long-range shot when the USA closed in at 62-56 and made a crucial play to extend the lead to 88-78 in the fourth quarter.

Tadas Sedekerskis, hailing from the resort town of Nida, isn’t a walk in the park for opponents. He’s versatile, plays tough defense, and grabbed 11 rebounds in the game. American players learned how challenging it is to box him out, and he calmly sank two free throws in the final minutes to secure the win.

Tadas, who spent his youth on loan to multiple teams, knows how to navigate different situations to come out as a winner.

Lastly, a close victory often depends on making crucial free throws, just as this story wouldn’t be complete without Margiris Normantas. He contributed with three assists in the first quarter and sealed the game with two clutch free throws, making it 107-100 despite the USA’s pressure defense.

Normantas had faced challenges just a few years ago when he struggled to find a place in BC Rytas’s rotation. Injuries led him to various teams in Lithuania, including Nevezis Kedainiai with Gabrielius Maldunas.


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