After a tough start to the season, two-time EuroCup champion Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius has found the winning touch and is now targeting a spot in the Top 16. One player responsible for Rytas’s turnaround has been center Arturas Gudaitis. The 23-year old bruiser has scored in double digits in each of his five games in the competition this season, but really stepped it up with the best two games of his career in the competition in Rytas’s back-to-back wins. His double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds (7 on offensive glass) against Montakit Funelabrada was followed with a shining role in victory over Khimki Moscow Region when he had 12 points, 15 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 assists.
His numbers may have only become noticeable this season, but Gudaitis is far from a new name on the scene. This is already his second EuroCup campaign, which comes on top of two seasons in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, where he made his debut as a 20-year old for Zalgiris Kaunas in January 2014. Gudaitis always showed potential from time he was chosen as the most promising young player of Lithuanian second division at the end of his junior status, but now it is there for all to see.
Entering Round 6 of the current EuroCup season, Gudaitis leads the competition in blocked shots (2.0 bpg.) and free throws attempted (36), is ranked third in offensive rebounds (3.4 per game), fourth in total rebounds (7.6 rpg.), ninth in performance index rating (20.0 per game) and 11th in scoring (15.0 ppg.). With these efforts, Gudaitis is again in the spotlight, which he has already been in not just for the promise he displayed at the junior levels, but also for becoming one of a select group of players who moved directly from one great rival to another, from Zalgiris Kaunas to Lietuvos Rytas.
Prior to playing for Rytas and Zalgiris, Gudaitis started competing at the professional level at a young age. From the time he was 17, Gudaitis played in the Lithuanian lower divisions for Klaipeda LCC TU, Gargzdai Bremena, Laivite Klaipeda and Zalgiris-Sabonio. He started competing at the elite level with the start of 2013 season, when he joined the Zalgiris first team. As the season progressed, Gudaitis earned more chances in domestic games and got the opportunity to make his EuroLeague debut in Round 2 of the Top 16 Round 2 on the road against mighty CSKA Moscow. In little more than 2 minutes at the end of his team’s loss, he managed to pull down 1 rebound and attempt – and miss – a close range shot.
Four weeks later Gudaitis played another four minutes at home against Partizan Belgrade and then scored his first-ever EuroLeague point in a Top 16, Round 7 loss at Real Madrid. As the season was winding down, Gudaitis got even more opportunities, and responded in the best way possible. By collecting 14 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks against Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar and 13 points, 7 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks against Partizan, Gudaitis already caught the eyes of basketball fans everywhere.
The following season, Gudaitis was a regular in the Zalgiris rotation; he came off the bench to post averages of 6.5 points and 4.0 rebounds over 20 EuroLeague games. He ranked as the EuroLeague’s fifth best offensive rebounder on a per-minute basis with 4.81 offensive boards prorated over 40 minutes, and was second on his team in blocks behind only veteran big man Robertas Javtokas. Gudaitis helped Zalgiris to back-to-back Lithuanian League titles and his performances earned him an invitation to the Lithuanian national team preliminary squad that summer, but what surprised many at the time was his decision to move from Zalgiris to archrival Rytas.
Despite the big rivalry, such a move is far from taboo in Lithuania, and not at all unusual. For instance, there are currently three players on Zalgiris’s squad that have played for Rytas in the past – Renaldas Seibutis, Robertas Javtokas and Antanas Kavaliauskas, the last of whom made that move just last summer - and even Kaunas-born EuroLeague legend and current Zalgiris head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius played twice for Rytas before putting on a Zalgiris uniform.
Still, the transfer put a great deal of focus on Gudaitis – and still does to this day - which was not at all easy for the young center, especially last season when plagued by injuries during the first part of the season, Gudaitis appeared in just five EuroCup games and posted a mere 4.8 points and 2.6 rebounds. However, after a tough start to the season, there was light at the end of the tunnel as he got healthier. Gudaitis improved to become one of Rytas’s most productive players by the time spring arrived, and finished the Lithuanian League campaign averaging 10.5 points and ranked fourth in the league with 6.5 rebounds per night.
That earned him another invitation to the national team, though Gudaitis has still yet to play an official game in a big tournament for his country. Despite that, he has made sure fans and talent evaluators far and wide know what a force he can be. Gudaitis has been so dangerous on offense that no player has drawn more fouls than him in the EuroCup this season (29) and he is one of only 10 players shooting better than 61% from the field. That is in addition to his dominance on the glass and protection of the rim. No other EuroCup player is ranked as high in those categories this season, and with plenty of time on his side, there is a lot more in store this season and in seasons to come for the young man, who only turned 23 years of age this past summer.
The immediate goal, however, will be to win these next two home games and secure safe passage for Rytas into the Top 16, where Gudaitis will get a chance to test himself against even more top-notch talents in the 7DAYS EuroCup.