Player Spotlight: Juste Jocyte - the magic to make Lithuania contenders again
HERAKLION (Greece) - If a measure of stellar talent and respect is when people start calling you by just one name, then FIBA U18 Women's European Championship MVP Juste Jocyte is on the path to greatness.
Say the name 'Juste' within basketball circles and everyone already knows exactly who you mean - even though incredibly, the Lithuanian star is only 16-years-old.
There's also more than one nickname beginning to stick too. As well as 'Baby Faced Assassin', there's one that is immersed in basketball history aka 'Magic Juste', while others are calling her the female equivalent of Luka Doncic.
As the dust settles on her magical performances in Heraklion, mostly against players who were two years older, the excitement around her potential to rejuvenate the fortunes of Lithuanian hoops is gathering momentum.
Sure, being the driving force behind her country's second title at the event was cause for serious celebration, but it felt like a genuine basketball coming of age. Any doubts around her having been overhyped like so many so-called 'wonderkids' before her were laid to rest - emphatically.
A magical player, capable of magical things.
Jocyte could now be the catalyst for what would be an overdue revival of the Lithuanian senior team. Having already made a record-breaking debut by stepping out when she was just 13-years-old, the growth in these past few years is evident for all to see.
Lithuania has not appeared at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket since 2015 and while there have been some mitigations, not least a string of super tough qualifying draws, it's in stark contrast to when they were regular attendees and even crowned 1997 champions.
Lithuania celebrated landing the FIBA Women's EuroBasket title in 1997
There are those who will be alarmed at suggesting such a young player is someone who can revive a nation's fortunes, but critically, she doesn't need to be some kind of saviour. The teenager has matured so much that she would be a leading contributor, as a smart team player, or someone who on her day can be unstoppable.
But what makes Jocyte a player who can help to bring back the good times for Lithuania?
Time when there is no time
Like so many outstanding players, one of the most striking components of her game is that she always looks to have so much time when she is on the floor - in every single situation. She has incredible composure when handling the ball and even when she has no right to - like when she is under immense defensive pressure. Just when she is about to be double-teamed, she has already figured it out or glided to a new spot on the floor and made a smart pass.
Built for the clutch
The scoring prowess of Jocyte is significant and hugely exciting for Lithuania fans and neutrals alike. Whether it is inside, mid-range or outside, you can't leave her open. And, her signature slice to the hoop (and ability to make the adjustment to her trusty left hand if needed) under heavy pressure to convert a floater or off the glass is so tough to stop.
The passing of Jocyte was always enjoyable and simultaneously effortless and clinical. She picked so many teams apart with her super vision and more often than not, her assists were for her teammates right under the hoop. Almost 7 assists per game tells a story about her commitment to create alongside that scoring ability.
Doing the dirty work
Defensively, Jocyte will get even better, but it was so noticeable how she was working tremendously hard at both ends of the floor off the ball. Meanwhile it was her rebounding that really did the job as she showed how willing she is to do that all-important dirty work. Her defensive rebounding was epic and she had more than 6 of those per game. She also hustled non-stop and showed the all-important appetite to win.
Super smart and the team ethos
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For any player with extraordinary talent, it's always a fine line to tread in terms of not trying too hard to dominate and respecting the team. The most powerful aspect of what unfolded in Heraklion was the way that Jocyte managed this. When she was not having a super shooting night, she took more of a back seat if a teammate was assuming the go-to role and performing well. She didn't force it, she shared the ball and did all of the things a great teammate should. But when she began to feel it, she took over the game and yet within any flurry of buckets, there were still an array of those absolutely terrific passes.
Now we wait excitedly to see the next chapters in the rise and rise of this outstanding young baller.