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.
PRIENAI – Siauliai became the Baltic Basketball League champions for the first time in the club’s history after handing TonyBet its first home loss of the season in Prienai on Saturday evening.
Having won the first leg of the BBL Finals by five points, Siauliai finished the task by claiming a 78-66 victory in the second game, as the Prienai side finished as runners up for the second year in a row.
TonyBet got off to a near-perfect start, going up 13-3 after five minutes of play after Zygimantas Janavicius buried a three-pointer. However, Siauliai raced from behind to take a one-point edge after the first period.
Having increased to gap to 39-36 at the halftime interval, the visitors continued their successful play in the third period, increasing the gap to 49-36 after a triple by Travis Leslie.
TonyBet managed to cut the deficit to three points with a 10-0 run and were behind only 66-63 three minutes into the final quarter. But Vytas Sulskis knocked down a pair of long-range shots, while Rokas Giedraitis added a couple of baskets of his own, as Siauliai broke away for good.
Rokas Giedraitis was the top scorer of the game, finishing the night with 17 points, Travis Leslie added a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds, while Vytas Sulskis chipped in with 13 points for Siauliai.
Mindaugas Lukauskis was once again the key man for Prienai, collecting a team-high 15 points, Zygimantas Janavicius scored 12 points, while Vaidas Cepukaitis had 10 points and five rebounds.
TAMPERE – TU/Rock defended a 13-point first leg lead against Pyrinto and won bronze medals in the Baltic Basketball League. Trailing by three points at halftime, the Estonian club used a big third quarter to pull away and register a 74-65 victory in Tampere on Sunday evening.
Pyrinto led by as many as six points in the second quarter after Kelvin Lewis capped off an 8-0 run with a three-pointer to make it 33-27 with four minutes to go in the first half.
However, the script flipped completely in the second part of the game, TU/Rock turned a three-point halftime deficit into a 51-46 lead after winning the third quarter 17-9 behind stellar play from Timo Eichfuss.
Although the hosts had got within two points (59-57) in the final period, the Eichfuss answered with five points in a row, allowing TU/Rock to pull away once again, as the visitors cruised to an easy win.
Eichfuss finished the game with a team-high 21 points, Vincent Simpson collected 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists, while Gert Dorbek added 15 points.
Pyrinto’s guard Antero Lehto was the game’s top scorer with 22 points, while Benjamin Raymond and Kelvin Lewis chipped in with 10 points apiece.
TARTU ‒ TU/Rock made the first step towards bronze medals in the Baltic Basketball League, edging the visiting Tampere Pyrinto 75-62 at home in Tartu on Friday evening.
Having completed half of the task, the Estonian side will attempt to finish the deal on Sunday in Tampere, where will be able to afford a loss of up to 12 points.
The usually high-scoring Pyrinto got off to a good start, going up 22-19 after the first quarter of play, but their offense got into a slump and TU/Rock passed them in the second period.
Trailing 26-21, the Tartu club outscored Pyrinto 15-3 in the final seven minutes of the half and headed into the break with a 36-29 advantage of their own.
After a solid third quarter, TU/Rock’s advantage increased to 58-44, with Vilmantas Dilys and Vincent Simpson accounting for more than half of the Estonian team’s points.
Although the hosts scored only two points in the first five minutes of the first quarter, Pyrinto did not take full advantage of it, scoring only two baskets themselves.
However, the Tampere side did manage to scale down the deficit to 10 points, but a three-pointer by Janar Talts in the last seconds of the game increased the gap to 13 points.
Vincent Simpson had a game-high 20 points for TU/Rock, Vilmantas Dilys collected a double-double of 17 points and 13 rebounds, while Janar Talts added 11 points.
Benjamin Raymond finished the game with 17 points and 10 rebounds, Damon Williams scored 16 and grabbed seven boards, while Kelvin Lewis chipped in with 11 points.
Viasat Sport Baltic viewers will have a chance to watch the last game of the Baltic Basketball League season, as Pyrinto welcome TU/Rock in Tampere in the second leg of the battle for bronze medals.
The game is set to tip off at 17:00, but the broadcast on Viasat Sport Baltic is scheduled to start at around 17:45, immediately after the end of the football game between Liverpool and Manchester City.
TU/Rock won the first meeting between the sides 75-62 and can afford to lose by as many as 12 points in the second game and still finish third in the BBL.
SIAULIAI – Siauliai started the BBL Finals on the right note, taking a 62-57 victory against TonyBet at home and will have a five-point advantage before the trip to Prienai on Saturday.
The hosts started the game better, running away to a 19-10 advantage after Julius Jucikas and Rokas Giedraitis connected for an alley-oop, capping off a 6-0 run at the end of the first quarter.
Derek Needham, who was orchestrating his team’s game well in the first two quarters, had extended Siauliai’s lead to 28-18, but Prienai cut the gap to 30-23 by the end of the first half.
After a successful start of the third period, TonyBet got within 36-33 after Mindaugas Lukauskis swished in a corner three-pointer, but Travis Leslie responded with a long-range shot of his own on the other end.
The game took an interesting turn when TonyBet’s coach Virginijus Seskus decided to go to a small line-up, playing with Arvydas Siksnius at the center position.
The change of tactics paid dividends instantly, with Siksnius tying the score at 46-all with a long-range attempt before nailing another one to put Prienai up by three.
With a 1:18 left on the clock TonyBet were still leading 57-56, but baskets by Derek Needham and Travis Leslie put Siauliai ahead, while Darius Pakamanis sealed the win from the free-throw line.
Leslie paced the winners with 16 points and seven rebounds, Rokas Giedraitis scored 10, while Derek Needham collected nine points.
For TonyBet, Mindaugas Lukauskis had 18 points and four assists, Arvydas Siksnius finished the game with 10 points, while Zygimantas Janavicius chipped in with eight points.
PRIENAI ‒ TonyBet will have a chance to add more silverware to the club’s trophy cabinet, as the Lithuanian Cup winners registered an 82-71 victory against TU/Rock in the second leg of the semi-final and made it through to the BBL Finals.
It will be an all-Lithuanian affair, as the team from Prienai is set to face the in-form Siauliai, who defeated Pyrinto in the other semi-final. TU/Rock and Pyrinto will play for third place.
Having won the first leg in Estonia by a single point, TonyBet broke away already in the first quarter, going on an 8-0 run to go up 16-9 five minutes into the game before increasing the gap to double digits.
The hosts led by as many as 15 points in the second quarter, but a good stretch to end the first half by TU/Rock restored a single-digit deficit, with nine points separating the sides at the interval.
However, Prienai jumped ahead by double figures once again after the game resumed and finished the third quarter with a 61-48 edge, before easing to a comfortable win in the final frame.
Zygimantas Janavicius, Gintaras Kadziulis, Vaidas Cepukaitis and Mindaugas Lukauskis all collected 15 points apiece for TonyBet.
For TU/Rock, Vilmantas Dilys finished with a game-high 20 points, Valmo Kriisa scored 14, while Janar Talts chipped in with 10 points and 8 boards.
TAMPERE ‒ The first spot in the BBL Finals was notched by Siauliai, who celebrated a 85-75 victory against Pyrinto on the road in Finland to win the second leg of the tie as well.
The Lithuanian side, who had won the first meeting in Siauliai by a single point, will now face the winner of Tonybet and TU/Rock pair, while Pyrinto will play for third place.
The game seemed to be going an entirely different direction in the first quarter, as the hosts got off to a 12-4 start, with Antero Lehto’s scoring pacing Pyrinto early on.
The Finnish side led by as many as nine points in the second period (25-16), but Siauliai finished the half strong and entered the break with a 38-35 advantage.
The second half was a completely different story with Travis Leslie and Vytas Sulskis leading the visitors to a 59-50 lead before the final frame.
Rokas Giedraitis pushed the gap to double digits with a lay-up, while Leslie added a three-pointer on the next possession to increase it to 64-50, as Siauliai cruised to a convincing victory after a strong second-half performance.
Giedraitis and Leslie finished the game with a team-high 18 points each for Siauliai, with the latter also grabbing nine rebounds, while Sulskis collected 13 points and five assists.
Benjamin Raymond and Antero Lehto carried the scoring load for Pyrinto, scoring 21 and 16 points respectively, while Kelvin Lewis added nine points.
TARTU ‒ Despite missing two key players in Laimonas Kisielius and Arvydas Siksnius, Tonybet snuck away with an 68-66 victory against TU/Rock in the first leg of the semi-final tie after Mindaugas Lukauskis scored a last-second lay-up.
In a close game, neither side managed to establish their superiority early on, but the Prienai team went on a 13-4 run in the beginning of the second quarter to gain a game-high eight-point lead at 31-23.
However, TU/Rock answered with seven points in a row and evened the game out, entering the second half only with a 41-38 deficit. Prienai led for the majority of third and fourth quarter, but it was never by more than a couple of baskets.
With 56 seconds remaining, Augustas Peciukevicius buried a three-pointer to tie things up at 66-all. Although the game seemed likely to end in a tie, Mindaugas Lukauskis had other ideas, giving Prienai a two-point lead just before the buzzer.
Lukauskis finished the game with a game-high 23 points and five assists, Arturas Valeika had a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Martynas Linkevicius chipped in with 12 points.
For TU/Rock, Vilmantas Dilys collected 12 points and eight rebounds, with Vincent Simpson and Augustas Peciukevicius finished the game with 10 points and five assists. each.
SIAULIAI ‒ Five players scored in double figures for Siauliai, as the Lithuanian side started the BBL Semi-Finals with an 82-81 victory against the visiting Pyrinto in the first leg of the tie on Monday evening.
The one-point advantage won’t give Siauliai much security ahead of the second meeting between the sides in two days time in Tampere, with the tie still very much a toss-up.
Both sides started red-hot from beyond the three-point arc, both making four of their first six attempts from long range, as Siauliai finished the opening period with a 29-25 lead.
The hosts increased the gap to 46-40 at the halftime break, with newcomer Bambale Osby performing well and providing the Lithuanian side a much-needed inside presence.
Siauliai led by as many as nine points in the second half, but Pyrinto’s go-to duo of Kelvin Lewis and Benjamin Raymond made sure to keep the Finns within reach of their opponents.
A pair of free-throws by Travis Leslie had increased the home side’s advantage to 82-78 with only a couple seconds to spare, but a three-pointer by Yannick Anzuluni just before the horn cut it to one point.
Arnas Labuckas paced the winners with 16 points, while Vytas Sulskis, Travis Leslie and Bambale Osby all finished with 13 points apiece.
For Pyrinto, Kelvin Lewis had a game-high 21 points, Antero Lehto scored 17, while Benjamin Raymond chipped in with 16 points and five rebounds.