Sarunas Jasikevicius
Sarunas Jasikevicius watching his team (Euroleague)

Sarunas Jasikevicius of Zalgiris Kaunas is the frontrunner for Coach of the Year in the Euroleague.

Despite the fact that his coaching career started officially only in January 2016, Sarunas Jasikevicius is already one of the best coaches in Europe. His 2017 has been nothing short of amazing, showing to everyone that his genius on the court has been transferred to the bench without any problem. In this edition of Euroleague, Jasikevicius’ Zalgiris Kaunas currently stands at the fourth place with a record of 10 wins and 5 losses and with five straight wins in the last month. Zalgiris has one of the smallest budgets in Euroleague, around nine mln euros this season, but is beating much more valued teams like Fenerbahce, Panathinaikos, and Barcelona and they’re now ideally placed to reach the top 16 phase.

The Lithuanian head coach can offer a beneficial game which promotes the best qualities of his players. Despite not having a real superstar on the team, Jasikevicius built a solid roster, improving the production of many of them. Players like Vasilije Micic, Kevin Pangos, Arturas Milaknis, and Edgaras Ulanovas have improved significantly under Jasikevicius. Not only on the court, but Jasikevicius is a great coach also inside the locker room, where every player feels significant and well respected. No matter how many minutes you have, every single player gives his contribution to the team and is happy to do it. In addition to that, Jasikevicius is a very competitive coach, he wants to win, of course, but he also wants his team to play in the right way, as Euro legend Zeljko Obradovic explained after his Fenerbahce’s loss against Zalgiris:

“Sarunas is a highly competitive guy, I’m not surprised by the results of Zalgiris so far. The team plays well and reflects the personality of his coach, they play as a real team. I think they’ll reach great results this season.”

Jasikevicius was also responsible for one of the best interviews of 2017. In May, Zalgiris was playing the semi-finals of Lithuanian league, and the coach gave his permission to Augusto Lima for leaving the team because of the birth of his first child. When a journalist asked Jasikevicius what his opinion about Lima leaving the team during the semi-finals, the coach’s answer was one for the ages

That shows the personality of Jasikevicius but also his intelligence. A coach that wants his team to succeed but at the same time a person that understands that basketball is not the most essential thing in the world, especially when you compare it to the birth of a child. A coach that genuinely enjoys the passion of his home crowd but can’t really benefit from it because he has 2.000 things going through his mind during the game</a >. The success of Jasikevicius as head coach hasn’t gone unnoticed. Many big Euro teams tried to bring him away from Zalgiris last summer, but at the end, Jasikevicius decided to sign a two-year extension with the Lithuanian side until 2019. For the moment Jasikevicius wants to tie his future and his success to Zalgiris but his talent will eventually lead him to other places, to a bigger team. If some of the big dogs of Euroleague will fail to reach the Final Four this season, you can bet that they’re going to offer Jasikevicius big time money. But it’s no surprise that Jasikevicius wants to stay, at least for the moment, with Zalgiris. He finished his professional career with the team in 2013-2014, he started as an assistant coach in 2014-2015 and the year after he became the head coach of the team. Zalgiris was the first team to see the potential in Jasikevicius to develop into one of the best coaches in Europe.

With the addition of a veteran like Beno Udrih, who has a lot of experience in the NBA, Jasikevicius and Zalgiris Kaunas hope to make some more noise this season. The qualification to the top 16 is almost a lock but the dream, of course, is to reach the playoffs and the Final Four, which will take place in Belgrade this season. As a player, Jasikevicius won the Euroleague four times (three-times with Maccabi Tel Aviv and once with Panathinaikos), so he  knows what he takes to reach the highest level in Europe. His team is the probably not the most likely candidate to raise the trophy in Belgrade but underestimate a team like Zalgiris could be a colossal mistake this season.

Watching Zalgiris playings really means appreciating the game of basketball expressed at his highest levels: the Lithuanian team hasn’t the pressure to win the Euroleague now, they’re not Fenerbahce, CSKA Moscow or Real Madrid, but the system built by Jasikevicius, perfectly shaped on his own idea of basketball, is very rare to find in Europe, especially at Euroleague highest level. Jasikevicius knows how to change his system in relation to the opponent’s characteristics. His career as a playmaker helped him in becoming a coach that can prevent the changes made by his opponents. He never looks in discomfort, also in the bad moments for his team, he’s always able to understand when it’s the right team to scream at his players to create a reaction and when to support them in a difficult situation.

Creating the right chemistry between the players and building a good culture inside the locker room, it’s often more important than the level of talent of the players and Jasikecius seems to have understood that pretty well. If Jasikevicius is already one of the most coveted coaches in Europe, you shouldn’t be surprised. Sarunas was born this way, he’s a natural leader, and after a legendary career as a player, it’s time for him to reach new goals as head-coach.

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