Lithuania has kicked off the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 with a strong start, winning their first two games comfortably. Jonas Valanciunas has been leading the charge with back-to-back 15-point double-doubles, and he’s not planning to slow down.
The Baltic powerhouse is brimming with strength, confidence, and determination. Their upcoming match against Montenegro holds the promise of maintaining a flawless record into the Second Round. This could be pivotal, considering the presence of the United States in the other group, widely favored not just to progress to the Quarter-Finals, but to win the entire championship.
Jonas isn’t concerned. He’s also unfazed by the constant reminders of who isn’t part of the team, rather than who’s standing alongside him in the Philippines.
“Much has been said, players joining and not joining, excuses, events unfolding… I don’t pay attention to that,” declared the 31-year-old, who took on the role of team captain since FIBA EuroBasket 2022.
“I see us as a force to be reckoned with. I have confidence in our squad, our players, and our coaching staff. Predictions? I steer clear of making those. Let’s wait until the tournament concludes, and then we’ll see where we stand and how it all unfolded.”
Time goes by, and seasons change, but one thing remains constant. When there’s a major event on the horizon, you can bet on Valanciunas donning that iconic Lithuania jersey.
“It’s an honor for me. As long as I can contribute, I’ll be part of this. As long as the national team requires my presence, I’ll be here. That’s a steadfast commitment, that’s who I am. I take pride in representing my country, it’s my way of giving back,” Valanciunas affirmed.
Lithuania was accustomed to fielding a frontline duo in recent tournaments, with Valanciunas and Domantas Sabonis forming a formidable presence in the paint.
Following Sabonis’ standout NBA season averaging 19.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 7.3 assists, with an impressive 61.5 percent field goal percentage, fans eagerly anticipated the reunion of these Lithuanian giants. Yet, a question loomed: Could their impact be even more significant with a new approach?
This hypothesis is being put to the test in Manila, as they’re adapting to spread the floor, introduce more shooting, and increase the pace of their game – changes that might work to Valanciunas’ advantage.
The new identity seems to be paying off in the early games at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“Sabonis’ absence is certainly felt. He was a key player for us. It’s a setback, but that’s the reality. Nonetheless, we have a capable roster of 12 players,” Jonas maintained his optimism.
“Our style may have evolved somewhat, with a greater emphasis on outside shooting and a more stretched-out approach. This offers more room to maneuver. We trust in our abilities, we’re still fully capable.”
The upcoming critical matches for Lithuania will provide all the answers.
A victory against Montenegro, followed by triumphs against Greece or New Zealand, could pave the way for their return to the Quarter-Finals of a major event – a feat they haven’t achieved since Rio de Janeiro in 2016.