12 - 20
August 2016
Mantas Sernius (LTU)
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Lithuania's title quest paving way for bright future

RADOM (FIBA U16 European Championship 2016) - Mantas Sernius was in charge of Lithuania at FIBA EuroBasket Women last year, and is now on the brink of guiding the U16 men's team to their first title in eight years.

The 33-year-old play-caller has seen his side go through the competition unbeaten so far ahead of the Final showdown with Spain, having aspired to finish in the top-3.

"We just wanted to win a medal, we didn't care which colour," he said.

"We have completed our main goal, but now have the chance to go for the title.

"It is a big test. The team have shown they are up for the challenge."

Lithuania have been ruthless in Radom. Teams have been comfortably despatched by Sernius' side en route to their fifth Final at U16 level.

The tournament started with a 50-point win over last year's champions, Bosnia and Herzegovina - who beat Lithuania in that Final - and the opening victory really set the tone.

"It was a great start for us," said Sernius.

"Ever since we began our preparations, I told the team that they must work hard if they want medals.

"The team has a strong mentality, they believe in each other and deserve to be in the Final."

The desire and hunger of the team ripples all the way down the bench.

And there are not just one or two standout players for the team - there are vital contributions coming from everywhere.

Tomas Balciunas is averaging a team-high 13.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, but there are three other players putting up 10+ points per outing with eight of the 12 above seven points per game.

It comes as no surprise that nobody wants to spend a second longer on the bench than they have to.

"There are burning eyes looking at me when I take players off the court - they all want to play so much," said Sernius.

"It makes it easy for me because I believe in every single player.

"Lithuania is always in the top-5 teams in each generation but it comes through lots of hard work.

"You have new players for the national team that want to do well and it is important to give them help each day."

"The experience the players are going through right now will help them a lot in the future." - Mantas Sernius

Sernius is also head coach of Lithuanian club side BC Pieno Zvaigzdes and says that how players fare at youth tournaments plays a part in his recruitment process.

"When I am looking at players for my club team, the things I look at are how many big tournaments have they played in, what titles they have won and how they deal with pressure.

"The experience the players are going through right now will help them a lot in the future.

"It is not every year you get to play in a Final so you have to do your best."

Since their rout of the Czech Republic that secured the 2008 title, Lithuania have lost in the U16 Final on three occasions including twice on home soil in 2009 and last year.

Lithuania were even more dominant eight years ago, winning their last two games by 36 and 42 points as a certain Jonas Valunciunas took home the MVP award.

Whoever claims this year's title will join the likes of France (2014) and Croatia (2011) in recent years as teams that have managed to win Gold by going through the tournament unbeaten.