Sabonis: ''The World Cup is going to be very exciting''
MIES (Switzerland) - Domantas Sabonis witnessed first hand the importance of international windows for national teams regarding player development when he represented Lithuania at EuroBasket 2022.
Having just survived a group of death in Cologne, where Lithuania had faced France, Slovenia, Germany, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Hungary, the Baltic country traded blows in the Round of 16 in Berlin with a Spain team loaded with players that had logged valuable minutes in World Cup and EuroBasket qualifiers.
Domantas Sabonis Jonas Valanciunas— FIBA (@FIBA) August 24, 2022
17pts and a W#FIBAWC | #WinForLietuva 🇱🇹
📺 Extended Highlights: https://t.co/53iCmzq10t pic.twitter.com/8ZyQNRnpvy
Grit, toughness, chemistry and execution were on full display for Spain, whose players had become battle-hardened thanks to experience gained in international windows. Spain won that game, 102-94.
Games played during the windows, Sabonis says, are golden opportunities for national team programs to get better.
"Yes, absolutely," he said. "I think that in qualifiers like the ones we have been playing for the FIBA World Cup, the opportunity is also given to guys that have a bit less international experience and maybe less minutes during some competitions or tournaments, and that brings more options to the (coaching) staff and to the national team.
"WE ARE COMMITTED TO KEEPING LITHUANIA AMONG THE BEST TEAMS IN THE WORLD."
"It's very important for us to have young guys, players that have less experience at international level gain this kind of experience and be ready when their name is called to be part of the team or be on the court."
Sabonis and Jonas Valanciunas are the most recognizable players in the Lithuania team yet other players have started coming into their own.
Two that emerged as key men at the EuroBasket were Rokas Jokubaitis and Ignas Brazdeikis.
"They have both done great things so far for the national team, and I know that the best has yet to come, that those guys, and many others, when given the opportunity, will do well and be impactful for the national team," Sabonis said.
Sabonis likes what he sees in Brazdeikis (No. 9) and Jokubaitis (No. 13)
"They learn fast and are ready for all the challenges and responsibilities that come in the national team."
It's not just talent and experience that national teams require. Successful sides also have good chemistry, both on and off the court. It's something, Sabonis says, that Lithuania have.
"We are all together, here to make a very solid and united group, and motivated to help every player and element of the team improve and be better and better year after year," he said.
As far as the 32-team World Cup goes, there was a palpable sense of relief in the last window when Lithuania booked their place in the tournament.
Lithuania sealed their place in the 2023 World Cup with a 65-56 victory at Montenegro on Nov. 14
"The competition is fierce, but we had to get our place at the FIBA World Cup," Sabonis said. "That was the one and only option. A team like Lithuania has to be present in every single competition, and has to compete against the best. All the time.
"It's important to be in every competition, to compete against the best of the world even more now as we see that the level of European basketball is very, very high, and so many teams can qualify for international tournaments. We are committed to keeping Lithuania among the best teams in the world."
The King from Sacramento in the NBA expects the World Cup that will be hosted in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"It’s going to be a fantastic tournament, I am sure about that. The fans will love to see the best players in the world, and I am sure that those three countries are really looking forward to the start of the tournament. Basketball is universal, and the live for the game is only going to get better and better as we move forward. All the ingredients are being put together to have a tremendous tournament."
For Lithuania to be among the top teams, everyone needs to be pulling in the same direction.
"We all fight for one," Sabonis said. "We all want to make our countrymen proud. It's an honor, a huge source of pride for each of us to represent Lithuania, and every player that is called to be part of the team, with a lot of playing time, or not, feels the same way and wants to give his best for the national team jersey."