Followers of this site are well aware that, after the American Del Harris left the helm of the Chinese Men’s National Team, Jonas Kazlauskas took over. Kazlauskas is a legend in the tiny Baltic nation of Lithuania, that tiny former ward of the Soviet Union that is geo-politically insignificant but fascinating in one respect. Though a struggling nation of fewer than three million, sending migrant labourers all over Europe, Lithuania is a hoops hotbed. (Some credit Arvydas Sabonis. Do you remember him?) It has one resource that a world powerhouse like China can envy from afar: Lithuania exports astounding levels and amounts of basketball talent.
Perhaps you remember the Lithuania national side playing in the 1992 Olympics. Four of their stars, including the magnificent Arvydas Sabonis, had played for the Soviet Union when they won gold in ’88 in Seoul, the last time the Americans were content to send a college all-star team. The U.S.A. “Dream Team” of NBA pros dominated in ’92 in Barcelona, winning their preliminary games by an average of over 40 points. The Dreamers were a huge story (and marketing campaign), but even occasional basketball fans fell in love with Lithuania that summer. The team had talent, but no money from home. Their warmups were outrageous tie-dyed duds designed by an American artist; legendary stoner band the Grateful Dead were said to have donated, too. They looked like charity cases or hipsters lost in time, but “the other Dream Team” played with flair and real joy. The Yanks drilled them by 51 in the semifinal, but their real Olympic moment followed: in the bronze medal game, Lithuania defeated the “Unified Team”, the leftovers of their former Soviet masters, and all was right in Lietuva for a golden time.
Now, you may know about Kazlauskas, Sabonis, the Houston Rockets Donatas Motiejunas, or any number of other Lithuanian ballers past or present. Ignas Vycas isn’t somebody you should know, particularly. He’s not a pro-level talent, but he is young and Lithuanian and left-handed, living in Dalian, and a major upgrade in my middle-aged hoops adventures. He’s too young for the job, but he’s my new best basketball friend.