Sarunas Jasikevicious: the chosen one (coach)


Sarunas walks nervously along the sideline. His eyes injected of fire. He’s always been like that. As a playmaker, one of the best of his generation, Sarunas Jasikevicious always let you know what he felt. And not all the point guards are like that.

Take Spanoulis for instance. His longtime friend and opponent, with whom he played in an amazing Panathinaikos, always has the same expression. His face owns a Buster Keaton-like steadiness that never lets you understand what he wants to do.

Saras, instead, is vocal. He screams, gives indications. Like his great masters Pini Gershon and Zeljko Obradovic, he seems to mold the team, he’d like to move each player with his basketball mind, one of the primary products of that kind in the last thirty years in Europe.

Few doubted he’d be successful. Even less thought he’d be SO successful to reach a final four with a team without stars, that he bent to his will, making them over perform.

Yesterday’s game showed a very precise Zalgiris, shooting 54% from the arc, and capitalizing on every opponent’s error. Ioannis Sfairopoulos tried all he could, but the result was never in discussion. The Lithuanian boys had too much confidence, a very clear game plan they executed perfectly and Olympiacos did not find the way to stop them.

As a player, Saras toured several cities. A hybrid product, part Lithuanian and part American, everybody saw in him the light of a talent that flourished in his career. Used to the big places and big names, it is not unlikely that he’ll leave Kaunas after one or two years, to go to a place where he left his heart, and there are some.

In his autobiography, he wrote words of love about Barcelona, where he won a Euroleague with Svetislav Pesic on the bench. But he was also offered the head coaching job at Panathinaikos when Obradovic left. His description of that offer makes all understand what an important task is to choose the Panathinaikos coach, with all the most important representatives of the team moving to his house.

He refused at the time, because he still felt like a player and stayed on court some more years. Now he had to make the choice, since time passes, but he seems to feel well on the bench.

It is not unlikely, though, because as a point guard, he was used to know the positions of all his players. After all, point guards make the best coaches, because while they play, they “imagine” the game, shaping the team on their attitudes more than other roles do.

And Sarunas shaped. He gave form, he led, learning how to play with the great players. Otherwise he could not stay in a team with Antony Parker, Diamantidis, Spanoulis, Navarro, though in different teams.

Could we say everybody expected him to be a great coach? Like Obradovic, like Djordjevic, you always expect a point guard to transition successfully to coaching. It’s natural. All the basketball innovators are likely to be former point guards and the more they’re inside the game the better.

For some aspects, we could say that his start was made easier by leading his home team, in a place in which he’s a legend. Reaching the F4 at such an early stage could increase the expectations, though, and put pressure on his future development.

However, somebody else did it already, and he’s someone whose number is certainly on the Sarunas’s list: Zelimir Obradovic.