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Jokubaitis looks to erase Lithuania disappointments, awaits facing USA at U19 World Cup
KAUNAS (Lithuania) - Disappointing Quarter-Finals losses is part of Rokas Jokubaitis’ international career but the Lithuanian point guard looks to put them behind him at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019 while also awaiting a showdown with the United States.
Jokubaitis was one of two 2000-born players on Lithuania’s roster at the 2017 U19 World Cup, where the Baltic team went into the final eight having won all four of its games. But Lithuania could not get past Italy in the Quarter-Finals and ended up taking sixth place.
"At that moment we felt huge disappointment because we looked very good at that championship. We had won everything until the Quarter-Finals. Maybe it gave us too much confidence in ourselves, so that could be the main problem why we lost," said Jokubaitis, who averaged 10.0 points, 5.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds. "I think it taught me to look forward to every game seriously and don’t think that it will be easy because in these tournaments nothing is easy."
Rokas Jokubaitis playing at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017, two years younger than the rest of the competition
A year later it was a repeat for Jokubaitis as Lithuania cruised into the Quarter-Finals of the FIBA U18 European Championship 2018 undefeated, including a win over eventual champions Serbia. But Lithuania could not get past Russia in the final eight and were forced into winning their final two games to finish fifth and book their ticket to the U19 World Cup - which is what they did with convincing 100-68 and 83-55 victories over Great Britain and Germany, respectively.
"It shows that we have very good team, with huge ambitions. Losing in the Quarter-Finals is very hard every time, but we came back stronger after that, and it helped us to win the ticket to Greece," said Jokubaitis, who averaged 12.9 points, 5.6 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals in the U18 tournament.
The Lithuanians showed great balance at the U18 European Championship with four players averaging between 11.9 and 13.7 points - a fact that will likely be important for the team’s success in Greece.
"Everyone on our roster will be important, no matter if they score or not," he said.
Jokubaitis is really looking forward to his second U19 World Cup, especially because of the draw as Lithuania were drawn into Group A with New Zealand, Senegal and United States.
"It’s a very strong group, meaning we will have to give everything already in the group stage. And of course all three teams aren’t from Europe, so that adds more excitement to this group," said Jokubaitis, who helped Lithuania to finish second at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2016.
Rokas Jokubaitis helping Lithuania to second place at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2016
The Mazeikiai native is particularly interested in the showdown with the United States.
"For the first time in my life I will compete against the United States. I think it will be a lot of fun playing against them, and of course I hope we will be double motivated," he said.
Jokubaitis has taken a big step this season playing with the Zalgiris Kaunas professional team, averaging 5.0 points and 1.9 assists in 18 games in the domestic league.
"I have gained as much experience this season as in my whole career," the 6ft 1in (1.85m) playmaker said. "It gives me a lot of confidence in me, and of course, my skillset is improving with every game."
Jokubaitis has prospered immensely from playing under Zalgiris head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius, who accomplished so much in the game as a player.
"The best thing about Jasikevicius is that the was a point guard, so it’s a lot easier to take the information from him because he knows what he is saying. His criticism is smart and I think my leadership skills and creativity improve everyday," Jokubaitis said.
Lithuania have performed quite well at the U19 World Cup in the past - winning the title in 2011, taking second in 2003 and finishing third in 2013. But Jokubaitis said the 2019 group will not feel any added pressure in Greece.
"There is some pressure every time before any championship because we are basketball country and everyone expects something from us. But I think we won’t look at earlier performances and we will fight no matter what."
Fight to forget past disappointments as well.