Coaches gearing up for season's opening

KEDAINIAI - With the start of the season on the very tip of our noses, the Vikonda BBL Cup 2013 will not only mark the start of a new campaign for the players, as coaches, too, will have a new set of puzzles to find the answers to on the court in Kedainiai.


Three of the four participating clubs have kept their steersmen and most eyes will look in the direction of Roberts Stelmahers, the head coach of the defending BBL champions Ventspils, who stayed at the helm of the club and will be aiming to expand his trophy cabinet even more this season.

“We will try to do our best and we have to remember that we hold the BBL title and that we have to defend it,” said the 38-year-old specialist.“We have kept the players who wanted to stay here and that is important – to work with players who really want to play for your team.”

Stelmahers pointed out that he wants his side to play defense-oriented basketball and be aggressive on both ends of the court. He continued by adding that he expects three things from his players: “Team spirit, unselfishness and positive attitude.”

Having had to acknowledge defeat to the Stelmahers-coached Ventspils in last season’s BBL Finals, Virginijus Seskus will secretly hope to topple the champs in the BBL Cup with a new-look Prienai team.

“We’ve managed to keep Gintaras Kadziulis, Arturas Valeika, Zygimantas Janavicius, Paulius Ivanauskas and Domantas Seskus, in addition to adding Dainius Salenga, Laimonas Kisielius and Vaidas Cepukaitis,” the Lithuanian coach said.

Despite the departure of two of the team’s leaders Gediminas Orelik and Arturas Milaknis, to Lietuvos Rytas and Zalgiris respectively, Seskus insists that the goals for the upcoming season remain the same.

“The BBL Cup is like the grand rehearsal for the upcoming season. We’re here because of last year’s accomplishments and it’s a big honour. We have always aimed to be amongst the four strongest teams – this year is no exception,” said Seskus, who assured that his team will try to stick with its trademark up-tempo game.

Tartu Rock is going to be the team representing Estonia in the tournament under the guidance of coach Gert Kullamae, who already has one BBL Cup under his belt from 2010.  

“Our team has changed a lot since last season. We’ve kept only five players in our roster. Of course, everything is connected with the budget, so we have to be satisfied, with what we have,” said the 42-year-old coach.

Having changed more than half of the team, the biggest concern for Kullamae is to get his team playing as a coherent unit. Team play and versatility is what the coach, who is also at the helm of the Estonian national team, highlights the most.

“The team needs to be able play different styles. Of course, you have to play smart, but sometimes you need some run-and-gun as well. Even this style can be smart sometimes,” said the young, but already quite experienced specialist.

Kullamae smiled and laughed, when asked about the goals for his team in the BBL: “To make the Final Four in both competitions, so we’ve got one already!”

From the four participating teams, only the tournament hosts Nevezis have reshuffled their coaching staff by bringing back Gintaras Leonavicius, who will try to lead an almost entirely rebuilt roster to new heights.

The 56-year-old specialist has already served as the head coach of Nevezis for five years from 2004 to 2009, before he left to Panevezys. Having added an array of well-known Lithuanian names and an American point guard in Tyrone Brazelton, the hosts will want to show the home crowd what this group is capable of.

“We understand that this only the introduction for the season, but we really want to give the fans some positive emotions,” said the team’s general manager Karolis Kalvaitis, who revealed that Povilas Butkevicius and Darius Silinskis should both be ready to help the team’s frontcourt.

The hosts Nevezis will face off against Prienai in the first semifinal of the BBL Cup on Saturday at 17:00, while Ventspils will meet Rock in the second game, which is scheduled to start at 19:30.

In the second day of action on Sunday, the losing teams will play for bronze at 13:15, while the semifinal winners will fight it out for the BBL Cup straight after, at 15:45. All four games from the Vikonda BBL Cup 2013 will be broadcast live on Viasat Sport Baltic