Liepaja/Triobet squeeze past Ventspils

27.09.2014

LIEPAJA – Liepaja/Triobet came out victorious 71-70 after a nail-biting semifinal against Ventspils. The home side will now face TU/Rock in the Olybet BBL Cup final.

Liepaja/Triobet came into the game firing with all cylinders and were early to grab a double digit lead. The home side jumped ahead 15-3 to start the game, just to see the lead melt until the end of the quarter. Ventspils scored 12 unanswered points to silence the nearly packed Liepaja Olympic Centre.

Neither team could get the best of their opponents in the second quarter, as both teams struggled to find the net throughout the remainder of the half. The scoreboard showed 29-27 – a two-point lead for Liepaja entering the break.

While both teams got scratch on the offensive end, Ventspils suffered a big blow not even halfway through the third quarter, as Harvey Grant quickly picked up his fourth and fifth fouls in less than a minute, forcing him to sit out the rest of the game. The Latvian teams traded free-throw after free-throw and before the fourth quarter, the score was all tied – 47 apiece.

Ventspils had the upper hand at first, but the home side managed to turn it around with an 8-0 run to get back in front. A couple of great defensive plays and a circus finish from Dwayne Johnson pushed Liepaja/Triobet’s lead to seven. Ventspils quickly responded with two three-pointers, Liepaja missed two of their six free-throws and were still in front by four with 5 seconds remaining. Mire Chatman closed the game with a buzzer-beating three-pointer to trim the lead to a single point.

Liepaja’s hero of the day, Dwayne Johnson, was adamant that despite the fact that a couple weeks ago, TU/Rock were demolished by 28 points, tomorrow their opponents will be in much better shape than when they last met them.

“They’re a great team, they play really really hard. I am sure the game will be much more difficult than the last time we faced them. You can clearly see that they’re in much better shape now. As for me, I’m going to give it a 110% every night. And I know everyone puts in the extra amount of effort. It’s definitely going to be a team thing!”

Johnson had game-highs with 22 points and 6 assists for Liepaja/Triobet, while Gints Atrops added 12.

For Ventspils, Andrejs Grazulis was the top scorer with 18 points. Mire Chatman added 13, while Troy Barnies contributed 11.

Rock survive thriller in Olybet BBL Cup Semifinal

27.09.2014

LIEPAJA – TU/Rock used a massive third quarter run to ignite a victory in Liepaja, as they beat Siauliai ­62-59 (20-25; 8-14; 23-5; 11-15) and made their way to the Olybet BBL Cup Final, where they face the winners of the Liepaja/Triobet – Ventspils Semifinal.

The teams started the game off trading blows one after another, but Siauliai managed to put up a 9-2 run which allowed them to amass their first tangible lead – 17-10. Mostly because of the input from Janar Talts, who scored half of his team’s points in the first quarter, the Estonian side managed to cut the deficit to five, as the scoreboard displayed a 25-20 Siauliai lead.

The second quarter started sluggishly, as neither team managed to get a field goal to drop for the first three minutes. However, despite that, Siauliai slowly yet steadily gathered a double-digit lead. The sides were separated by eleven entering halftime.

Tables turned in the third quarter, as Tartu went racing back and after an 18-2 run to start the quarter, the 11-point deficit was quickly wiped away. The Estonians won the third quarter 23-5 and were already in front by seven points entering the final 10 minutes.

Siauliai started the final quarter on a higher note, but every time they would finally catch up with their opponents, TU/Rock would answer with a three-pointer to make it a two possession lead.

However, with three minutes remaining on the clock, TU/Rock were forced into two 24-second shot-clock violations and that helped the Lithuanians tie up the game. Karolis Petrukonis scored the go-ahead basket with 33 seconds on the clock and Augustas Peciukevicius later converted a free-throw to push the lead to three, while Siauliai couldn’t get any of their possibly game-tying contested three-pointers to fall.

TU/Rock point guard Augustas Peciukevicius, who finished the game with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists, had his share on the breakthrough third quarter:

“Coach just told us to get it together. If I’m not mistaken, we only made 30 percent of our 2-point field goals and most of them were good, easy looks. We continued working hard on defense, started converting on our chances and with a few strokes of luck, we had the breakthrough.”

When asked, who he would like to meet in the final, Peciukevicius “A couple of weeks ago we lost to Liepaja by 20, so we obviously want to get our revenge. However, it’s been quite a while that we’ve played Ventspils, so it’d be quite interesting to try them out. All in all, we’re up for either match-up.”

Apart from Peciukevicius, the Estonian side received a solid impact from Janar Talts, who had 13 points and 9 rebounds, while Tanel Kurbas had 12 points.

On the losing side, Ryan Olander and Jonathan Lee had 12 points each, while Gintaras Leonavicius was also in double-digits with 10.

Helmanis eager for Kurland derby

26.09.2014

The last evening before the start of the Olybet BBL Cup has come upon us and the Baltic Basketball League (BBL) finishes up the introductory interviews with Liepaja/Triobet – the host team.

This will be the team’s second run for the title, as they finished second two years ago. Team head coach Uvis Helmanis and Dwayne Johnson shared some thoughts about the upcoming season. The coach told us all about the moves in personnel, the ceiling of the team and the importance of the home crowd, while the newly signed point guard was a bit more talkative and shared some parts of his summer routine, told us about adjusting to the European game and gave us a short look at what we’ll see from him on the court.

Coach Uvis Helmanis was slightly secretive about the possible additions to the team, but it is clear that the roster might not yet be set in stone. Nevertheless, he is very pleased with the summer market moves as they are right now. Liepaja did a good job filling the positions they needed most and they should be force to be reckoned with.

Helmanis named great team chemistry as the strongest weapon of the team and hopefully, with high team morale, all the others aspects fall into place themselves. He was adamant that chemistry will be of vital importance in tomorrow’s match-up against Ventspils. The game itself has some sentimental value to both teams.

“This will be Kurland’s derby, so it will definitely be an important game. Match-ups against Ventspils are always something special!”

Another key to the game, according to the 42-year-old specialist, will be fan support: “Fan support is always like a sixth player on the court! At the end of last season, we had a wonderful support and we are now doing our best to get our fans back into the arena, to let them have something to cheer for – not only in the BBL Cup, but also in the upcoming BBL and LBL seasons. Hopefully, we will be one of the 2-3 teams posing the greatest threat competing for the championship this year.”

Dwayne Johnson, who nearly singlehandedly led Southeastern University to the NAIA Division II Final Four last season, is still familiarizing with European basketball and getting used to the “smarter, more detailed and a lot more physical” style of play, but he is sure to bring his A game already in the very first match-up.

We asked the point guard what fans should expect from him and, as it turns out, the on-and off-court Dwayne Johnson are two complete opposites.

“The fans can expect someone who is just a savage on the court, works hard, and is a team player. I’m just a competitor who sacrifices for the team and will do anything to capture the victory. Off the court – a respectful, God-fearing man, who stays out of trouble and is willing to be a part of the community.”

 Johnson mentioned that during the summer, he worked extremely hard on his shooting from every angle and every game situation: “off the dribble, off the jab, from NBA range – anything you can think of, I have practiced it and am striving to be great at it. It’s all a work in progress and I’m taking it one day at a time.”

A mentality of this sort is sure to help Liepaja/Triobet reach new heights. They are taking the first step already tomorrow, with a battle against Ventspils in the Semifinals of the Olybet BBL Cup. On Sunday the home side will face either Siauliai or TU/Rock.

Siauliai – young, ambitious and victory-thirsty

25.09.2014

Only two days separate us from the Olybet BBL Cup and the Baltic Basketball League (BBL) has prepared the third of four interviews with the participating teams. Up on centre stage – last season’s BBL champions Siauliai.

We talked to Coach Gediminas Petrauskas and newly assigned team captain Vytas Sulskis about the short-term goals of the team, the changes it went through throughout the summer and the upcoming battles in the Olybet BBL Cup.

Last year, Siauliai started the season slowly, but quickly climbed up the ladders and finally finished on top – the Lithuanian side became BBL champions for the first time in team history. Although the club had to look for replacement for all the foreign and a couple of domestic players they had last season, Gediminas Petrauskas is happy that in three years, this roster stayed most intact. Hopefully, that will help the team build on last season’s results.

When asked to describe the team he hopes to have this season, Petrauskas was quick to answer – fighters: “We want to be a team that plays hard every single game. We are definitely not giving away a victory easily to any team.”

Vytas Sulskis also had his share: “Although we’ve all been together only for a brief time, it’s clear that this young team will be very ambitious and victory-thirsty. We’ve really got an incredible group of guys here.”

When the talk went on to the teams threatening to steal away the champion’s title in BBL, the coach was wary: “It’s still way too early to try naming the strongest teams, but I am absolutely sure that this season will be full of twists and turns!”

According to the head coach, the Olybet BBL Cup, which takes place in Liepaja this weekend, will be a dress rehearsal before the upcoming season: “I am already expecting a solid showcase from my players. Although there may be quite a few flaws in our game, we hope to start building a solid base for our upcoming games and hopefully, start building it with a trophy already on our shelves.”

Can Siauliai prolong their dominance in the league? We will find that out this weekend in Latvia, where Siauliai face TU/Rock and either Ventspils or the home crowd driven Liepaja/Triobet.

Štelmahers confident defense will pave Ventspils' way

24.09.2014

The final days before the Olybet BBL Cup are being counted down and the Baltic Basketball League (BBL) introduces you to the four participating teams. Next up is Latvian powerhouse Ventspils.

Roberts Štelmahers, one of Latvia’s all-time best point guards and the current head coach of Ventspils told us about the goals and sights of the club, the vocal points of preparation for the season and what can be expected from this roster. Akselis Vairogs also chipped in with some thoughts on the capabilities of the team.

First of all, Štelmahers wanted to acknowledge the milestone Ventspils just reached this year – a 20 year anniversary: “I want to congratulate our club with the 20th anniversary. It is a very significant milestone and I am very happy that there is such a club in Latvia that has played high level basketball for such a long time.”

He also indicated that this year the team is obliged to aim even higher and that the players will enter the court with even higher confidence and extra motivation. Just like they did in previous seasons, Ventspils will go out trying to win every game and every tournament they partake in.

Štelmahers also gave some insight on preparations for the season. The team faced some difficulties in loss of personnel and building up the team was the focal point of the offseason. According to the head coach, the club formation is a work in progress. While they are not yet 100% tactically ready, Ventspils are intensely working on it to reach the highest results.

When asked what three words would describe his team, the coach was strict: “Right now I can say just one word that has been used to describe our team during the last couple of seasons and that would be defense!” Obviously, this game-plan has been working for the club and hopefully, they manage to keep the results coming.

Coach downplayed the importance of the big loss in a previous friendly tournament final against Liepaja, but admitted that it’s always nice to take a victory back and perhaps bring home a trophy.

“At this moment the team is just forming and trying to find its own rhythm. That is the reason why there could be some tough losses during the preparation process. It is normal because we experiment with things we definitely would not be doing during the regular season. But how else can we test the strengths and weaknesses of the team and each player's abilities? Nevertheless, we will play, we will fight and we will try to bring victories from each and every game.”

Akselis Vairogs, who will be playing his 10th season for Ventspils, was not yet ready to compare this roster to previous ones, but was confident that the team can reach high goals.

“Each season comes with new hopes and surprises but only during the season we can talk about how this team is different from the previous teams. I can't tell you just yet because we are still in the preparation process and we still have a lot of work to do. But I think if we work hard and a lot on our game and ourselves, the team will build a good understanding and trust in each other, now then - I can tell you - this team will be at its best.”

Ventspils’ first shot at revenge is getting closer and closer – the Olybet BBL Cup takes place in Liepaja this weekend and the Latvian champions will face Liepaja/Triobet and either TU/Rock or Siauliai during the tournament.

Kullamae, TU/Rock aiming even higher

23.09.2014

Less than a week remains until the start of the Olybet BBL Cup and the Baltic Basketball League (BBL) has prepared introductory interviews with the four participating teams. First on the list - TU/Rock.

Team head coach Gert Kullamäe told us about this year’s line-up, compared it to the roster that took bronze last year, his expectations for the team and, last but not least, the possible outcome of the BBL season. Marek Doronin, who’s played his whole career for TU/Rock, also added some insight about Tartu fans and his ambitions for the season.

Aggressive defensively, team-oriented offensively and a good team-spirit – a combination that can prove any goal to be surmountable. And this is the combination Gert Kullamäe envisions his team playing with.

After finishing last season without a true center, adding a presence inside the paint was a priority for the club: “This season one of the goals, when making the team, was to get a big guy under the basket and hopefully Petrukonis will prove us right.”

Another important change comes at the point guard position, where Tanel Sokk from Kalev/Cramo will now be taking the reins. Without doubt, both the younger players and the team as a whole will benefit from his experience playing for the national team and matching up against top-tier international teams.

Despite the fact that the signing of players came in only at the beginning of September, Kullamäe was happy with the roster he is now handling. “Considering the situation in Estonian sports right now, I am happy with the way the team has been put together – we have good players in all positions, we have young guys and we have experience, we have players with different skill sets.”

The coach acknowledged the fact that it is impossible to predict the BBL winners before the season. “When Zalgiris, Lietuvos Rytas, VEF Riga and Klaipeda do not play, all the teams left are very evenly matched.  There are a lot of strong teams and the games will show who will play for the top spots in spring.”

However, that does not deter from aiming for the highest goals. Last year TU/Rock played well in both international tournaments – they earned bronze medals in BBL and were just short of the Final Four in EuroChallenge. Coach admitted that the club is certainly not looking to let up this season. The core of the team is very much intact and the club has made some noteworthy improvements over the offseason so TU/Rock will certainly not be setting the bar lower. Just like every year, the goal is to win both the national championship and the Estonian cup and build on previous performances on the international level.

Marek Doronin was also cautiously optimistic about the possibilities of the team. “This season we have to clear last year’s fumbles. We had a good season, but many desired goals were left unfulfilled in the end. We had some problems with injuries before important games, but if we manage to stay healthy, this season can surely end with a better place in all the leagues we play. But these are all just wishes and expectations - first we have to show ourselves as a real team on the court.”

Doronin was explicit that the club has the best support in the league and that fans play a key role in the team’s success. He is certain that as a team, TU/Rock will offer exciting games and will have plenty of fight in every single one of them.

It’s only a matter of time until we find out whether or not all the hopes and expectations become reality but an early glimpse of it all is already planned – the Olybet BBL Cup takes place in Liepaja this weekend, where TU/Rock will face Siauliai and either Liepaja/Triobet or Ventspils.

Liepaja buzzing as Olybet BBL Cup closes in

20.09.2014

While the official Baltic Basketball League (BBL) season starts mid-October, basketball-thirsty fans will have a glimpse of the action a couple weeks earlier, as the Olybet BBL Cup is just around the corner! The four-team tournament takes place in Latvia this year, as the Liepajas Olympic Center welcomes you all on the 27th and 28th of September.

Saturday night will kick off with Siauliai and TU/Rock trying out the court at 17.00, followed by a Kurland derby between Liepaja/Triobet and Ventspils at 19.30.

Sunday will determine the final placement of the tournament, as the battle for third place starts at 14.30, while the headliner match-up between the two winning sides begins at 17.00.

Of the four participating teams, TU/Rock are the only ones to have finished atop of the tournament, as they were victorious in 2010. If they turn out on top this year, they would be the first team in history to win the BBL Cup twice.

Liepaja’s greatest achievement came in 2012, when they finished second, while Ventspils took home three third place finishes throughout the years, the last of them coming in 2013. Siauliai participated only in the 2012 BBL Cup and were, unfortunately, fourth.

President Cup 2008 - Riga - 1.Lietuvos Rytas, 2.Barons/LMT, 3.Zalgiris, 4.TU/Rock
BBL Cup 2009 - Kaunas - 1.Zalgiris, 2.Lietuvos Rytas, 3.Ventspils, 4.Kalev/Cramo
BBL Cup 2010 - Tartu - 1.TU/Rock, 2.Lietuvos Rytas, 3.Ventspils, 4.Kalev/Cramo
Dorpat BBL Cup 2011 - Tartu - 1.VEF Riga, 2.University of Tartu, 3.Rudupis, 4.Kalev/Cramo
BBL Cup 2012 - Rakvere - 1.Rakvere Tarvas, 2.Liepajas Lauvas, 3.TU/Rock, 4.Siauliai/Triobet
Vikonda BBL Cup 2013 - Kedainiai - 1.Nevezis, 2.TU/Rock, 3.Ventspils, 4.Prienai
Olybet BBL Cup 2014 - Liepaja - ?

The organization has prepared numerous competitions for fans, so we would like to especially welcome Liepaja residents to support their team and help them continue their good form early on. Besides, history has shown that home crowd support is vital in the tournament, as the home side has never finished below the second spot and took first place four times.

Full-day tickets cost only 3 Euros, so come have your share of basketball, witness title-winning plays and become a part of the Cup history!

BBL Season 11 starting soon!

10.09.2014

After a thrilling anniversary season last year, the Baltic Basketball League (BBL) is getting ready to return its’ 11th season. This year’s competition will include 8 Estonian teams, 6 clubs each from Lithuania and Latvia, and one team apiece representing Finland and Russia.

BBL Season Review

06.05.2014

Now that a couple of weeks have passed since the tenth Baltic Basketball League’s (BBL) season finale, let’s take a look back at the top performers, records and most impressive performances of the season in this BBL Season Review.

CHAMPS. For the first time in the club’s history, Siauliai became the Baltic Basketball League champions after grabbing two victories against Prienai with a combined 140-123 result.

PODIUM FINISH. While Prienai took silver, TU/Rock battled past BBL debutants Pyrinto to claim bronze. The series ended with two TU/Rock victories, combining for a 149-127 score.

OFFENSE.  Pyrinto showed an array of offensive weapons this season and deservedly became the highest-scoring team in the league. The Finns averaged 87.1 points per game, recording four of the five highest scoring outbursts, ranging from 106 to 117 points.

BUST. While Pyrinto were simply dominant on the offensive end, Valga Maks&Moorits was ways behind. They ended up being the lowest scoring team in the whole league, as they only coughed up 57.3 points per game. While the Estonian team failed to secure a single victory, a handful of their games went down to the wire.

ADDITION. Hands down, the greatest mid-season addition in the entire league was Travis Leslie. The guard played 12 games for Siauliai and immediately made a tremendous impact. Not only was Leslie named the Finals MVP, but he also led the team in scoring with an average of 14.8 points and rebounding, racking up 7.5 rebounds per game throughout the season. He was also second in the team in assists.

SCORING KING. While Valmiera’s playoff run wasn’t very deep, Janis Kaufmanis was unstoppable throughout the whole season. The guard reached double digits in scoring in 13 of his 14 games and averaged a league-high 19.5 points per game. Kaufmanis was also responsible for the season single game scoring record as he reached 34 points twice.

BEAST. Not only was Joakim Kjellbom the top rebounder in the league, but he was also the most efficient player. The Swede averaged 15.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 23.6 ranking points. The 35-year-old veteran also led the league in double-doubles with eight to his name!

Once again, all the congratulations go out to the medalists and, of course, to all the fans that cheered their teams on throughout the year. Thank you all for being with us this season!

Leslie: "My dream is to be back in the NBA"

24.04.2014

VILNIUS ‒ It’s quite likely that Siauliai would not have been where they are without the acquisition of Travis Leslie midway through the season. The 24-year-old American has been instrumental in the team’s golden run in the Baltic Basketball League, picking up the Finals MVP award and leading the team both in points and rebounds throughout the BBL Playoffs.

 

BBL.net caught up with Leslie in Vilnius after a close loss to  the Lithuanian league (LKL) leaders Lietuvos Rytas to talk about getting cut twice in France, coming to Lithuania in January and continuing to pursue his dream of eventually coming back to the NBA.

Two weeks have passed since the BBL Final against Prienai – are there any special feelings remaining from that game or the whole season or was all of that left behind?

It is a great accomplishment for me and for my teammates. Also, coming here from France where they cut me twice, Siauliai gave me the opportunity to showcase my skills and I’m glad I got the opportunity. I just feel we went out there and played hard and got the championship.

You snatched up the Finals MVP award as well, does that make the accomplishment even sweeter?

Yeah, definitely. I came here to play hard and win a lot of games, win championships. We got the BBL and, hopefully, we’re going to get far in the LKL too.

How was the reception by the fans in the town square after coming back with the trophy?

Yeah, it was great. A lot of people were waiting for us. Just happy that we won, congratulating us.

You joined the team midway through the season, but seem to have blended it quite well. How’s the atmosphere and chemistry in the team?

The team brought me in pretty good. When I came in, there were no problems, I learnt the plays and they just brought me in like a family and it’s all been good so far.

How do you see your stint in Lithuania – it a stepping-stone for your future career and perhaps returning to the NBA one day?

Definitely, like I said, getting cut twice and then not giving up, coming to Lithuania, playing hard and winning the championship in the BBL, being the MVP and we’re doing pretty good in LKL and hopefully we can win that. And my dream is to be back in the NBA, so I’m just going to keep working.

In Lithuania there are two top teams – Zalgiris and Lietuvos Rytas. Do you play with them with extra motivation, extra energy?

Well definitely, Lietuvos Rytas and Zalgiris are two of the best teams here. Playing against them, you’re always going to be motivated, because you’re the underdogs.

Do you feel you’re good enough to play for one of those teams?

Yeah, I think I can play in a lot of places and I’m good enough for those teams,  but like I said, they didn’t give me the opportunity and Siauliai did, so I came here to play and I’ve been showcasing your skills. Hopefully, the other two teams see what I can do and the next year they may offer me a deal.

As you said yourself, you got cut twice in France earlier this season. What went wrong there?

They wanted a specific player. One of the teams wanted a shooter and I didn’t turn out to be the type of player they wanted and the other team just wasn’t a good system for me and I’m really glad Siauliai gave me the opportunity.

Can you compare the French league with the Lithuanian one?

France is much more athletic, while in Lithuania you can’t leave anyone open with bigs shooting threes. In France it’s maybe a little bit more one-on-one, which is similar to the NBA. That’s basically what it is. It’s only a little bit different.

In your mind, what’s the better route back to the NBA – playing in Europe or going back to the D-League?

I know a couple of guys from Europe, who got call-ups, like Scotty Hopson. So it can go both ways. D-League is in the States, so there’s a lot of scouts and they see you. So I think it’s both.

Talking about the NBA, the playoffs just began – did you get the chance to watch any games?

I’ve been trying to. I’ve been watching a couple of games, but others are just too late because of the time difference. I’ve caught a couple.

You were drafted by the Clippers and Atlanta is your hometown– do you support any team?

Yeah, yeah – I want the Hawks to beat the Pacers. They had a good performance in the first game and hopefully they can keep going. I don’t really have a specific team that I want to win, but I’m just want it to be a good playoffs.