Kalnietis: "Only a medal would be a success in Lithuania"
KAUNAS (2016 Rio Olympics) - Lithuania basketball fans always have high expectations for their team no matter the competition. And that will be no different at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where Mantas Kalnietis and his teammates will be under pressure from back home to take a spot on the podium.
"Lithuania has always won medals, whether that's in Europe, the World Cup or the Olympics," said the 29-year-old, who will be appearing in his second Olympics following the London Games.
The Olympics will only be successful in Lithuania if we win a medal. People are always going to talk about how we can do better if we don't. - Kalnietis
Despite being in the middle of a long season with Zalgiris Kaunas, the 29-year-old point guard is looking forward to the playing in Brazil in August.
"All sportsmen want to play at the Olympics. It's one of the biggest dreams. I remember those memories from London. So Rio is going to be something amazing," Kalnietis enthused.
Lithuania have been very successful at the continental level with second place finishes at the 2013 and 2015 editions of EuroBasket, while coming in third and fourth respectively at 2010 and 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cups. They also succeeded at the 2012 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, booking a place for the London Games.
By reaching the Final at last summer's EuroBasket, the Lithuanians automatically qualified for their seventh straight Olympics. The country reached the Semi-Finals in each tournament from 1992 to 2008 before finally bowing out at the Quarter-Final stage in London.
There is a sense of relief that the team will not have to go through the OQT again like they did for the London Games.
We are really happy that we are already in the Olympic Games because it’s not easy to prepare for two tournaments in one summer. It’s a big victory that we’re already there. - Kalnietis
"When you see how many good teams will still play in the qualification it's still going to be a very interesting tournament and a lot of good tams will not play in the Olympics," said the 1.94 guard, who will be hoping to help Lithuania to their fourth Olympic podium finish following bronze medals in 1992, 1996 and 2000.
The Kaunas native is back with Zalgiris after nearly three seasons with Russian club Lokomotiv Kuban. He has loved the relationship with long-time Lithuanian star Sarunas Jasikevicius, who after drawing the curtain on his playing career re-joined Zalgiris as an assistant coach to start the 2014-15 season and has taken over as head coach following the recent firing of Gintaras Krapikas.
"I'm almost 30 years old and when he came into the team he showed me some small things which I felt I was learning for the first time in my life. So it really has helped a lot," said Kalinietis, who played with Jasikevicius at the 2012 Olympics.
Now he looks forward to using those new-found lessons in Rio this summer to satisfy the success-hungry Lithuanian fans.