By Cesare Milanti / info@Eurohoops.net
KAUNAS, Lithuania – Among other teams during his 17-year European career, Rimantas Kaukenas wore the jerseys of Telekom Baskets Bonn and Real Madrid, respectively in the 2003-04 and 2009-10 seasons. Waiting for the EuroLeague Final between Olympiacos and the Blancos, there’s the possibility these two former teams of his will both be champs in European competition.
Talking exclusively with Eurohoops, the 46-year-old legendary former shooting guard expressed his hope hours before the last game of the season for the Spanish side. “I’m cheering for them, hoping they can come out with the victory and become the EuroLeague champions once again. I’m more than happy to see the organization and the fans do well, having once again the chance to win”, he said.
Going on about Real Madrid, emotion can be seen through his eyes. “There’s emotion in my heart talking about Real Madrid. I’m still in touch with them. Amazing history, and a lot of talented players. The organization has vastly invested in basketball, and they are continuously showing the results”, the former Montepaschi Siena player added.
If Chus Mateo’s team will still need to wait until the final buzzer in the Zalgirio Arena to know its faith, Telekom Baskets Bonn has already found gold success, beating Hapoel Jerusalem to lift the 2023 Basketball Champions League trophy. “Amazing”, Kaukenas said about the German team’s first-ever trophy.
“Everybody in the city I think is losing his mind out of happiness. Bonn is such an amazing place. I had one of my best times there, and I improved a lot. I’m so thankful to them for everything they have done for my growth as a player. Seeing a couple of years ago that they had a tough year and then doing this, it’s a Cinderella story. I’m really happy and proud of them. It’s sport: one year you’re down, and you never know how it’s gonna go. You have to continuously work, and be very professional, and this is what Bonn has done. They’ve been very hardworking and humble, and there is your result”, the Lithuanian veteran also said.
Rimantas Kaukenas will obviously have the opportunity to watch Real Madrid going up against Olympiacos in his own country, and he expressed his satisfaction with Kaunas hosting the Final Four, just like Paulius Jankunas. “It’s amazing”, he said. “Lithuania is a basketball country and having an event like this only helps to raise the level of basketball: more interest, more attention. It motivates the youth to continue to grow and improve”. Talking about youth, he also touched on what Georgios Bartzokas spoke about in the Championship Game press conference. “Unfortunately, there is a shift of International players towards the NBA. It’s quite hard to find a lot of young potential players who would rather stay here to improve and grow. There’s always big potential, but the shift toward the NBA has been growing. It’s harder for everyone”, Rimantas Kaukenas said.
To get to the EuroLeague Final, both Olympiacos and Real Madrid had to come back during their semifinals against AS Monaco and FC Barcelona. That brings back some painful memories for Rimantas Kaukenas, who experienced a similar situation with Siena in the 2008 Final Four in Madrid.“We experienced the same thing with Siena, in the Final Four in Madrid”, he said about the semifinal against Maccabi Tel Aviv, which they lost 92-85 after leading 45-33 at halftime.
“It’s so difficult in the beginning, because you come with a huge expectation that it will be very loud, but the atmosphere is really particular. You have four groups of fans, so sometimes it gets loud, and sometimes not. You have to come really focused into the semifinal because you can’t relax for a single second. Sometimes the team gets burned, or they overstress that. These comebacks are a normal thing, because the team that suffers the blowing, in the beginning, picks it up”, he said.
“All the teams in the Final Four are big teams, so they will do whatever it takes to come back into the game. When you build up your lead, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you win the game. It’s life, and that’s the beauty of the game. This is what the game is all about. It’s about the fight until the end for forty minutes, without any loss of attention. You have to be very disciplined, and concentrated”, Rimantas Kaukenas added.
Finally, before leaving the Kaunas Sports Hall following U18 Real Madrid’s win in the ANGT, the president of BC Wolves took some time to speak on the new Lithuanian side. “We had quite a difficult year to put everything together. We were hoping to participate in some Cups last year, but we had to wait for the decisions of the EuroCup and Basketball Champions League. We tried to get into both competitions, but that didn’t go through: that changed the roster and the coaching staff. We were taking a huge risk. We tried to come up with and go achieve high results. However, I think the team got a little bit burned at the end because some of the players couldn’t handle the attention and expectations”, Rimantas Kaukenas said.
After failing to qualify in the FIBA Europe Cup, finishing 2nd in the European North Basketball League, and being eliminated in the LKL Quarter-Finals by Jonava, the Lithuanian side will start again from the 2023-24 campaign. “It’s a painful lesson for us. We need to continue building, make some adjustments, regroup, and go forward. We have to move the team from Alytus to Vilnius, which requires a lot of work around it. We start from scratch“, BC Wolves‘ president commented.
However, Rimantas Kaukenas doesn’t know if they will be able to make it to the EuroCup or the Basketball Champions League, joining Zalgiris Kaunas, Rytas Vilnius, and Lietkabelis as another Lithuanian side in the major International competitions. “As of now, we don’t know anything. We have to wait until the Lithuanian league is finished, trying to speak, to understand the situation with the federation regarding how the rules will be. The year before there were only 11 teams, now they are 12. What changes regarding the sporting results? How the LKL will be perceived by others? That’s what we would like to understand. Right now, we try to evaluate our season, have meetings, understand what we can improve, and go from there”, he finally stated.