Mantas Zilys missed an important juncture of Naperville Central’s summer season schedule, however basketball coach Pete Kramer gave Zilys his blessing.
And for good purpose.
“Not having him harm our chemistry,” Kramer stated. “However what he ended up doing goes to assist enhance each a part of his recreation, and that can profit us.”
Zilys traveled to his mother and father’ native Lithuania to check out for the U-18 nationwide group that participated in a qualifying match for the FIBA World Cup.
“All of this passed off in three completely different cities in Lithuania,” Zilys stated. “Siauliai, Kaunas and the capital of Vilnius.
“I needed to journey there as soon as I used to be invited to participate. The flight was 9 hours after which one other two-hour connection. I didn’t know the way a lot time I used to be going to be there.
“All of it relied on how I performed.”
Basketball isn’t just the quickest rising sport in Lithuania. It has grow to be an obsession — a supply of great nationwide pleasure.
Led by eventual NBA standouts Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis, Lithuanian-born gamers made up the 4 greatest abilities on the Soviet Union’s 1988 nationwide group that captured the Olympic gold medal.
After reaching its nationwide independence in 1990, Lithuania gained three consecutive Olympic bronze medals from 1992 to 2000.
Being one of many 16 gamers invited for the junior nationwide group tryouts is a major achievement for Zilys.
“Twelve gamers ended up making the ultimate group,” he stated. “And I ended up getting lower simply earlier than the beginning of the World Cup. In the course of the time I used to be there, I assumed I performed my recreation.
“I want I may have performed extra level guard and confirmed extra confidence. I shot the ball very effectively.”
He needed to modify on the run and assimilate into the team-first framework.
“In Lithuania, the sport is way more about group basketball, with spacing and creating performs,” he stated. “Passing the ball was the No. 1 possibility.”
Regardless of developing brief in making the 12-player roster, Zilys gained many advantages from expertise, with publicity to elite coaching and a heightened degree of competitors.
“We performed a few observe video games towards Poland,” he stated. “After that, we additionally had the possibility to play towards some skilled gamers.”
It was an eye-opening time, permitting him to soak up the completely different taking part in kinds and intensely bodily play.
He additionally got here of age.
“I feel the toughest half for me was dwelling there on my own,” Zilys stated. “That taught me accountability.
“So far as basketball, the perfect half was studying a unique model of play. I additionally obtained bodily stronger.”
A two-year starter for the Redhawks, Zilys made his identify as a lights-out shooter who may rating from wherever on the ground.
As a junior final season, he averaged 17.5 factors and 6.7 rebounds. He shot 40% on 3-pointers. He earned all-conference and all-area honors.
The 6-foot-3 Zilys combines wonderful dimension for a taking pictures guard with intuition, terrific footwork and creating athleticism.
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“He performed with Jonah Hinton, our level guard, the final two years and his recreation was completely different,” Kramer stated. “He was way more of a catch-and-shoot participant. He may do issues off the dribble.
“Getting this type of expertise is unquestionably going to assist each facet of his recreation.”
Zilys had a powerful spring taking part in AAU basketball in preparation for his departure to Lithuania.
His time with the nationwide group underscored factors of emphasis, accelerating his improvement.
“Trying again at it, my time there helped get me extra athletic,” he stated. “Taught me easy methods to transfer extra with out the ball and get my handles tighter.
“The entire thing was wonderful, completely different and distinctive.”
Patrick Z. McGavin is a contract reporter for the Naperville Solar.