PRIENAI – After a down year for basketball in Prienai last season, the team has undergone a true revival, which coincides with the return of coach Virginijus Seskus and some former players.
Although the name of the team changed, Laimonas Kisielius, one of a number of ex-Prienai players to sign with Vytautas, says the unique atmosphere is the same. And the results would attest to that.
Boasting an impressive 9-0 record, the Lithuanian side is the only undefeated team in Triobet BBL and the 30-year-old forward has been a key cog in the successful start of the season for the club, earning the December MVP award.
In the two games he played over the month, the 30-year-old forward averaged 20.5 points, 5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2 steals and was among the most efficient players in the league, making 69% and 53.8% of his shots from two-point range and from beyond the arc respectively.
Kisielius spoke to BBL.net about being back in Prienai, the team’s title aspirations in Triobet BBL and the desire to fight for medals in Lithuania, as well as the difficulties that come along with having a relatively thin roster.
First of all, congratulations on picking up BBL Player of the Month honors for December. In terms of BBL, everything seems to be going smoothly – the team is winning you are playing well. How would you evaluate the first part of the season in the Baltic League?
I think it’s going pretty well so far, as long as we keep winning games. As far as the Player of the Month award goes, it was only for the two games we played in December, so I don’t take it as a very good achievement. But the team is winning and we are playing well, that’s all that matters.
After starting the season red-hot in the domestic league, Vytautas finished the year with a five-game losing streak in LKL. What were the main reasons for this poor stretch of play, in your mind, and how does it affect you and your confidence going forward?
I think the biggest reason is our health. Our roster is only eight-players deep and when we lose somebody to an injury, it’s kind of hard to play without certain guys. We played a few games without our main center, we played some games without our main point guard. You know, it’s tough when the rotation is only six or seven guys. As long as we stay healthy, I think right now we’re starting to click again after all these losses. I think we’re going to be fine.
There are a lot of old faces from the 2013-14 season, when you last played in Prienai, in the team this season. Has the club kept its charm and uniquely free flowing atmosphere? Are there any noticeable differences?
The main difference is the players on the team, but as you say, there are a few guys who are the same from two years ago. We still have good chemistry. It’s all Lithuanians on the team, so we don’t have any communication issues with each other, most of us live together over here. There are different personalities on the team than two years ago, but it’s mostly the same atmosphere.
Has the stint with Lietuvos Rytas at all changed how coach Seskus approaches things?
He seems a little bit more confident, but other than that I don’t think there are big changes in him. I guess not.
Vytautas has the best record in the BBL right now, what are your goals for the competition?
I’m not going to deny that our goal is to win it all. As I said before, if we stay healthy, we do have a good chance. I mean, our goal is to win. It’s as simple as that.
Some stronger teams from FIBA Europe Cup could join from the BBL Play-Offs. Vytautas had also received an invitation to play in the tournament, but the situation evolved unfavorably. When you go to play against teams like Juventus, Pieno Zvaigzdes or Siauliai, does that add extra motivation to prove that you are better?
Of course. It’s good that those teams join, if they do join. That just increases the level of the competition. We’re going to be playing these teams either in LKL or BBL either way. It increases the level and we enjoy the opportunity to beat them.
On paper, Vytautas has assembled, perhaps not a very deep, but a really strong-looking roster. You have defeated Neptunas this season, but Zalgiris and Lietuvos Rytas proved tougher to handle. As the season goes along, do you think you can challenge these teams for the medals in Lithuania?
Yeah, we just need to play our game. As long as we stay together on the floor. We do have to get lucky a few games, but I see why we can’t compete with them.
To finish on a broader stroke, how was 2015 for you on a personal level and what would you like for the year ahead to bring?
It was good, I had a good season in Pasvalys. We played well there, we were unfortunate that two of our good guys got lost to injury [in the bronze-medal series in LKL]. I guess this year is going well so far somewhat and hopefully we can continue this streak. Other than that, I got engaged. So that’s pretty cool [smiles], I guess, keep looking to 2016!
PRIENAI – Virginijus Seskus had only eight players at his disposal, but Vytautas still overpowered Barsy, taking a 80-73 victory at home in Prienai on Thursday in a Group B clash.
The Lithuanian side remains the only undefeated team in the competition after improving to a squeaky clean 9-0 record, while Barsy dropped to 3-5.
Vytautas got in the driver’s seat early on after a 22-14 start of the game and although their lead never reached double figures in the first half, they were very much in control.
Leading 41-33 at the halftime break, the hosts allowed Barsy to get a couple of baskets to open the third period, but then went on an 11-0 run to increase the gap to 52-37.
With five minutes remaining, the same 15-point margin separated the sides, but a 13-3 spurt by the Kazakhs had cut it to five points with a minute left. However, Vytautas held on with Paulius Ivanauskas ending sealing the win with a jumper on the other end.
Vytautas Sulskis had a huge double-double of 24 points and 14 rebounds for the hosts, Vilmantas Dilys also added 24 points, while December MVP Laimonas Kisielius finished the game with 10 points and six boards.
For Barsy, Michael Burwell scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds, while Ryan Cook and Mikhail Yevstigneev added 18 and 16 points respectively in the loss.
RIGA – Barons/LDz ended a four-game losing streak in Triobet BBL, defeating the visiting Nevezis 96-75 in the first game after the Christmas break for both sides on Wednesday in the Latvian capital.
The hosts improved to a 2-7 record and climbed out of the bottom of Group A, while Nevezis dropped to 3-7.
After the first quarter of play, the teams were in a deadlock at 25-25, but the hosts looked better in the second period, breaking away to a 50-41 halftime lead.
The downslide continued in the third period for Nevezis, with the Lithuanian side failing to contain Barons/LDz’s long-range shooting, with the gap separating the sides growing to 22 points in the quarter.
There was no way back for the team from Kedainiai, who were forced to concede an unexpectedly large defeat on the road. Barons/LDz finished the game with 17-of-35 made shots from three-point land.
Roberts Freimanis had 23 points and 10 rebounds for Barons/LDz, Kristaps Gluditis scored 21 points, while Salvis Metra added 15 points.
For Nevezis, Taylor King and Vaidotas Volkus scored 20 points apiece. King also added 13 rebounds, but finished the game with five fouls. Darius Gvezdauskas chipped in with 16 points.
PARNU – Despite playing without a number of key first team players, Lietkabelis managed to overcome a poor first half and started the year with a 97-92 victory on the road against Port of Parnu on Wednesday.
The Lithuanian side improved to a 9-1 record in Group A and no longer share the top spot with Valmiera/ORDO who lost in Tallinn a day earlier. Port of Parnu, now 1-8, are last in the group after another close defeat.
The hosts got off to a tremendous start, establishing a 26-18 lead after the opening period. Mostly due to excellent play by newcomer Mark Dorris, the Parnu club managed to increase the gap to 52-43 by the halftime break.
However, Lietkabelis resumed play with newfound intensity after the break and the deficit disappeared after a 23-7 run in the third quarter. Although Port of Parnu had even gotten in front on a couple occasions in the final period, but the Lithuanians proved to be better down the stretch.
Valdas Vasylius led the winners with a game-high 26 points, Jurica Zuza had his best game of the season with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Akselis Vairogs got on the floor for the first time after an injury and collected 16 points.
Meanwhile, Dorris was the best player for Port of Parnu with 21 points, five boards and five assists, as Paulius Petrilevicius scored 19 points and grabbed nine boards.
RAKVERE – Tarvas brushed away the rust after the Christmas break in Triobet BBL, starting 2016 with an easy 84-73 home victory against the league outsiders TTU on Wednesday.
The victory saw Tarvas improve to a 5-4 record in Group B, while the visiting TTU are still winless in ten games this season.
It seemed that the hosts were ready to run away with the game already in the opening quarter, as Andres Sober’s side went up 30-20. However, TTU fought back in the second period and cut the deficit to 48-46 at the halftime break.
However, what little momentum TTU had managed to accumulate in the second period, was washed away after losing the third period 22-9, reducing the final frame to a mere formality.
Reinis Strupovics led Tarvas in scoring with 21 points after going 4-of-9 from three-point range, while Roberts Stumbris and David Haughton added 12 and 11 points respectively for the victors.
Meanwhile, Kristjan Kitsing dropped a game-high 22 points, with Corey Raley-Ross adding 11 points and nine rebounds in only 19 minutes of action.
TALLINN – Dominykas Milka was simply sensational in his debut for TLU Kalev, as the Estonian side came from behind in the fourth quarter to hand one of the Group A leaders Valmiera/ORDO an upset, triumphing 80-79 after a hard-fought battle down the stretch at the Kalev Spordihall on Tuesday evening.
The Lithuanian center put together an impressive performance off the bench, scoring 27 points and grabbing eight boards, as TLU Kalev improved to a 5-5 record, while Valmiera/ORDO dropped to 7-2.
The hosts began the game with an 8-0 run after catching the visitors from Valmiera unprepared, but a timeout by Gatis Melderis put things right, as Valmiera/ORDO responded with a nine unanswered points.
Nevertheless, TLU Kalev stayed in charge for most of the first half, taking a 42-40 lead into the halftime break. Valmiera/ORDO had seemingly managed to break the game in their favor in the second half, but it proved to be far from the end of things.
With two minutes remaining in the game, Arturs Berzins put the cherry on top of a 7-0 run by converting on a jumper to push Valmiera/ORDO’s advantage to 79-72.
However, Johnny Berhanemeskel responded with a quick bucket and excellent defensive pressure by TLU Kalev resulted in a handful of turnovers by the visitors, allowing Thomas Droney to score three baskets in a row in the final 80 seconds, giving the hosts the winning edge.
Berhanemeskel scored 17 points, grabbed six rebounds and came up with three steals, while Droney added 11 points.
For Valmiera/ORDO, Laksa and Berzins scored 14 points apiece, Janis Kaufmanis collected 13, while Ervins Jonats and Davis Rozitis finished the game with 12 points each.
With the first part of the 2015-16 Triobet BBL season in the books, let’s take a look at the best performances across the main statistical categories over the first three months of action in the league.
Can these records be broken in 2016? We will have to wait and see!
POINTS. Having scored 41 points against Barsy in one of the first games of the season, Liepaja/Triobet’s guard Khristopher Richard still holds the season-high in Triobet BBL. The 26-year-old American is currently fourth among all scorers in the league, averaging 17.4 points per game.
Former Port of Parnu leader Andrew Warren, who left for Kosovo during the winter break, came closest to Richard’s record, when he scored 40 points in an all-Estonian clash versus AVIS Rapla. However, even that was not enough for the Parnu side to achieve a victory.
REBOUNDS. At the top of the best performances in terms of rebounds, we also find a Liepaja/Triobet player. Zack Stephan set the season high by grabbing 18 rebounds in a double overtime loss to Vytautas in December. It is no coincidence that the 23-year-old center is leading the league in rebounds with 11.4 boards per game.
His American compatriot Malcolm Rhett from Barons/LDz had the second best performance in the league this season with 16 rebounds against one of the league outsiders Port of Parnu back in November.
ASSISTS. Despite holding three of the four top assist performances of the season so far, Rait-Riivo Laane is actually not at the season record-holder, as Port of Parnu veteran Silver Leppik registered a season-high 12 assists against Nevezis.
Right below, we have four excellent performances by the Triobet BBL assist leader Laane, who is the top man for dimes with 6.4 assists per game. He has dished out nine or more assists on three occasions, with his best performance coming against Barsy, when he had 11.
THREE-POINTERS. With a total of 30 makes from beyond the arc, Jurmala/Fenikss sharpshooter Edgars Jeromanovs leads the league in three-pointers made. Close behind is Johnny Berhanemeskel from TLU Kalev with 28 three-pointers.
Jason Calliste of Barons/LDz makes the most three-pointers per game with 3.2 successful long-range shots per game, with Berhanemeskel ranking second at 3.1 makes per game.
STEALS. The honors of the best performance in the steal category are co-shared by Port of Parnu teammates Andrew Warren and Silver Leppik, who both registered games with seven steals. Warren was the first to set the record in October, but a month later Leppik repeated his feat. Strangely enough, neither of them are in Triobet BBL Top 10 in steals.
BLOCKS. Mindaugas Kupsas from Nevezis recorded the most blocks in a single game with five rejections against Barons/LDz back in October. With an average of 1.4 blocks per game, the 215 cm giant from Lithuania shares the third place among top rim protectors in the league.
Jurmala/Fenikss forward Ivars Zvigurs and William Artino from AVIS Rapla have have both had games with four blocks to their name.
For the second month in a row, Triobet BBL monthly MVP honors went to a Lithuanian player, as Laimonas Kisielius snatched up the award for the month of December after leading the undefeated Vytautas to two more wins with stellar play across the board.
The October MVP award went to Paulius Petrilevicius from Port of Parnu last month.
In the two games he played in December, the 30-year-old forward averaged 20.5 points, 5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2 steals and was among the most efficient players in the league, making 69% and 53.8% of his shots from two-point range and from beyond the arc respectively.
His best performance came at home against TTU, when Kisielius scored 28 points grabbed five rebounds and came away with two steals, all whilst going 11-of-14 from the field.
Although two Port of Parnu players, Andrew Warren and Paulius Petrilevicius, had a better average efficiency ranking in December, the fact that Vytautas have a league-best 8-0 record became the deciding factor.
The award will be presented to Kisielius on December 7 in Prienai, when the Lithuanian club will try to keep its undefeated run going as they welcome Barsy Atyrau from Kazakhstan.
Four of the five Triobet BBL clubs successfully advanced to the Round of 32 in the inaugural edition of the FIBA Europe Cup, but the second stage of competition is proving to be much more challenging, with all four Baltic sides starting off on the wrong foot and suffering defeats.
Were the teams not to advance to the elimination rounds of the continental competition, they would join Triobet BBL from the Play-Offs. To keep you up-to-date with the situation of our clubs, BBL.net brings you the latest updates from Europe in a weekly round-up.
CEZ Nymburk 88-64 Ventspils
Ventspils was the most successful Baltic team in the regular season of the FIBA Europe Cup, winning all six games, but it did not help the Latvian club to start the Round of 32 with a win. The seasiders suffered a big 88-64 defeat in Group P at the hands of CEZ Nymburk in Czech Republic.
Kristaps Janicenoks collected a team-high 13 points, Kwamain Mitchell scored 12 points and dished out four assists, while Alan Wiggins collected 10 points and seven rebounds for Ventspils.
Elan Chalon 76-67 TU/Rock
Estonian champions TU/Rock couldn’t come away with a win to start the action in Group R, falling short 76-67 to Elan Chalon on the road in France. It was a very close game for the most part and the hosts only managed to run away with the lead midway through the final frame.
Karolis Petrukonis recorded a double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds in a losing effort for TU/Rock, Janar Talts collected 14 points and dished out five assists, while Gert Dorbek finished the game with 11 points and six dimes.
STB Le Havre 98-84 Pieno Zvaigzdes
Pieno Zvaigzdes ended up on the wrong side of a high-scoring game in Le Havre, coming back to Lithuania having started their Group S campaign with a 98-84 loss to STB Le Havre. Former Zalgiris guard Willie Deane, who finished the game with 29 points, was a mystery Mantas Sernius and his side could not solve. The French side made 69% of their field goals, also going 11-of-18 from three-point range.
For Pieno Zvaigzdes, Ramone Moore had a team-high 19 points and five assists, Andriy Agafonov collected 14 points, while Lauris Blaus finished the night with 13 points and five rebounds.
Belfius Mons-Hainaut 77-57 Juventus
After falling behind by double digits early, Juventus had to concede defeat to Belfius Mons-Hainaut in Group T, losing the away game in Belgium 77-57. A bad start of the game got the Lithuanian side out of their rhythm, as they failed to put any pressure on the hosts and allowed them to cruise to an easy win.
Spencer Butterfield was one of the few bright spots for Juventus, as the American guard scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 35 minutes of action. Meanwhile, Egidijus Dimsa and Chavaughn Lewis chipped in with 11 points apiece.
RAKVERE – Liepaja/Triobet didn't have too many problems in Rakvere, as they raced off early to their seventh win in ten games with a solid 77-59 victory against Tarvas.
It wasn’t much of a contest from the early stages of the game and although the two clubs stood at nine apiece midway through the first quarter, Liepaja/Triobet then hurried off to a quick double-digit lead.
The sides were already separated by 13 points at halftime and it just got worse later on, as the Latvians soon pushed their lead to game-high 25 points. While Tarvas did trim the deficit down, it was all said and done, the final score had blow-out written all over it.
Toms Leimanis was solid with 14 points for Liepaja/Triobet, while Janis Antrops added 13 to the total. Arnolds Helmanis and Anthony Holliday chipped in with 10 and 9 points respectively.
Reinis Strupovics was the top-scorer for his team with 14 points, while Maksim Kovacevic was the only other significant performer on the offensive end, as he had 11 points.