The comeback: Ulanovas embraces new challenge with Lithuania
KAUNAS (Lithuania) - Edgaras Ulanovas missed representing Lithuania and needed to satisfy that itch of representing his country again.
And now, nearly five years, the Zalgiris Kaunas veteran gets to wear his nation's flag proudly on his chest again as Lithuania get their FIBA EuroBasket 2025 Qualifiers campaign underway on Thursday, February 22, against Poland.
"I'M EXCITED ABOUT THE OPPORTUNITY TO ONCE AGAIN PUT ON THE NATIONAL TEAM JERSEY."
A return to action in front of the most loyal and dedicated fan bases – a dream start.
"I have missed meeting up with my old teammates," Ulanovas said.
"The group of guys who'll get together is really intriguing, and it'll be a good test and a good challenge for us. At the same time, I'm excited about the opportunity to once again put on the national team jersey."
Ulanovas last played for Lithuania at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China, averaging 7.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as the Baltic side went out in the Second Round for a ninth-place finish in the final standings.
Having taken a few summers off to take care of his body, the 31-year-old is now again excited about the the chance to play in front of the passionate Lithuania fans.
"For the fans, having an opportunity to watch the national team play during the winter is really important," said Ulanovas.
"We're maybe getting used to this more nowadays, with the windows, but before you'd only ever see the national team play in the summer. There are a lot of good players, strong opponents – the level of basketball will be good. It'll be a good experience."
But while Ulanovas may need to adjust and find his role on a Lithuania roster that has changed vastly since his last appearance, there is a very familiar feel to his teammates and head coach.
Mentored and led by veteran play-caller Kazys Maksvytis, Ulanovas won every youth prize with the 1992 generation, which included New Orleans Pelicans standout Jonas Valanciunas.
Add four of his Zalgiris teammates: Dovydas Giedraitis, Laurynas Birutis, Lukas Lekavicius and Tomas Dimsa are also included on the roster, and Ulanovas suddenly feels settled on his return.
View this post on Instagram
"We didn't really talk too much about this with each other, but the calendar has been put together rather favourably this year," he says.
"We'll have a big gap between the national team and club games, so it's a great opportunity to join the national team and help the team.
"I know the coach, I know the teammates – it'll make things easier. But there'll be other guys I don't know as well, so it'll be interesting to see what the roles are and how players fit them."
However, Ulanovas will only have a little time to familiarize himself to the hymn sheet that coach Maksvytis sings from at the national team.
A brisk training camp leads to a home game against Poland, followed by a trip to Estonia in the first window - North Macedonia completes Group H.
"You cannot really call this a camp. It'll just be putting a few key accents, 3-4 days of practices. It'll be an interesting experience. We all know each other, so it'll make things easier," he said.
Being thrown into the deep end can be challenging. Still, after a less than desirable run of recent tournament finishes for a country obsessed with the sport, Lithuania will be dangerous when backed into a corner.
"A LOT OF TEAMS THAT WEREN'T REALLY IN CONTENTION ARE NOW IN THE CONVERSATION."
But despite being away from international basketball, Ulanovas is aware of the unpredictability that the Qualifiers bring.
"It's a good challenge for myself," Ulanovas stated. "I've never been in a situation like this.
"Since the start of the windows, a lot of teams that weren't really in contention of qualifying are now in the conversation; there are a lot of surprises.
"We need to look at each game seriously, and the upcoming window is no exception. Teams we'll be up against play well together, and especially during the windows. We'll need to give our all."