The Club Scene: Lietkabelis Panevezys

Jan 27, 2017 by Igor Petrinovic, Print
The Club Scene: Lietkabelis Panevezys

When one talks about clubs on the rise in recent years in Europe, Lietkabelis Panevezys definitely has to be in that conversation. Last season was one of the finest in club history and this season Lietkabelis not only made its 7DAYS EuroCup debut, but advanced to the top 16 is still in the race to reach the quarterfinals. These result bear witness to the fact that the club continues to grow in ambition and professionalism.

Lithuania has always had a passion for basketball and Lietkabelis was founded in 1964 out of that exact passion. The very next year city of Panevezys got a new arena - the legendary Aukstaitijos sporto rumai, named after the Aukstaitijos region where the city is located, which immediately became the home of the newborn club. Local legend even claims that some of the teams original players were among those that helped build the arena with their own hands.

Carrying the name of the successful local cable factory, for almost three full decades Lietkabelis competed in the lower divisions in the old Soviet Union, but kept its relevancy that has arguably made it one of the top Lithuanian clubs to this day.

What certainly helped Lietkabelis was the sports boarding school which was founded in 1965 in Panevezys, and throughout the decades has attracted many talented youngsters who later became Lithuanian and world-class athletes.

The name that has left the biggest imprint on both Lietkabelis and the school was the legendary coach, the late Raimundas Sargunas, who throughout the years raised many famous Lithuanian basketball players. Panevezys is the home town of EuroLeague-winning coach Jonas Kazlauskas, late Zalgiris Kaunas legend Raimundas Civilis and other famous Lithuanian players from the 1970s and 1980s, including Vitoldas Masalskis and Vytenis Andriunas, and they all started playing basketball under coach Sargunas with Lietkabelis, where they received the foundation that enabled them to continue on, and accomplish great professional careers.

That all helped Lietkabelis make a name for itself, and with the guidance of Sargunas, the club made a significant step up in 1978 when it qualified for the second division in the old Soviet League and stayed there for eight seasons. In years that followed, with Vidmantas Paskauskas taking over as head coach, more players got to start their journey with Lietkabelis before going on to make great careers, including the three-time EuroCup champion as coach Rimas Kurtinaitis, who spent his first professional playing season as a 20-year-old with Lietkabelis in 1980-81 before going on to become an Olympic, World and European champion. A season after Kurtinaitis, Lietkabelis was the place where point guard Algirdas Brazys and big man Romanas Brazdauskis, two more famous Lithuanian players, started their respective careers, too.

Lietkabellis had its best years in the seasons to come. Under coach Paskauskas, it won a pair of Lithuanian League championship within the Soviet Union in 1985 and 1988, had four third-place finishes, and also reached the regional Lithuanian’s Cup finals in 1985 and 1986. With the likes of Gintaras Einikis and Alvydas Pazdrazdis also in town attending boarding school and being around Lietkabelis in the early 1990s, basketball very popular in the city.

After Lithuania became an independent state, the club was one of the co-founders of the Lithuanian Basketball League in 1993. While it was another proud chapter in club’s history, which helped turn a new chapter for the entire Lithuanian basketball, big changes soon hit Lietkabelis, too. The factory stopped sponsoring the club in 1996, which led to a series of name changes – a total of seven in the next decade and a half. The 32-year long tradition was first broken later that same year when the club became Kalnapilis. In 1999 it changed name to Sema, but only for a year and then was known as Panevezys. In 2001, the club changed its name to Preventa-Malsena and then two years later to Aukstaitija. The name Panevezys returned in 2004 and remained until 2007 when it changed to Techasas.

The club might have changed its name, however, it did not change its tradition of producing quality players. In the first 20 years of existence in the Lithuanian Basketball League, Lietkabelis had more notable players grow up or come through the club, including Gintaras Bacianskas, Gintaras Kadziulis, Kestutis Kemzura and Mindaugas Lukauskis, among others. Lietkabelis made its European competition debut in the 1999-2000 Korac Kup and during a 16-year span under different names, it reached the Lithuanian League playoffs nine times, but its run was stopped in the quarterfinals each time. Lietkabelis also started participating in the Baltic League, and after 43 years got a new home when Cido Arena opened in 2008.

The club had one of its proudest moments in recent history in January of 2012, when the club returned the name that poses a great sentiment to all the fans – Lietkabelis. After a pair of seasons, it returned to the Lithuanian League playoffs, and last season matched its best ever results by reaching quarterfinals in the Lithuanian Cup and League playoffs. Over the summer, the additions of Lavrinovic brothers – Ksistof and Darjus – and the return of Lukauskis, gave the fans more reasons for satisfaction, because Lietkabelis looks to be on a good path to become a serious force in Lithuanian and European basketball. It would be well deserved turn of events, considering more than 50 years of tradition, hard work and proud moments this club has lived through so far.