A new era has started for Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius with former superstar Linas Kleiza taking over as vice president and sports director. Rytas changed much of its roster over the summer, but retained the services of three-time EuroCup champion Coach Rimas Kurtinaitis, who helped the club lift its second – and to date last – EuroCup trophy in 2009. Kurtinaitis has many new and experienced players to work with this season as Rytas will be deep at all five spots. Pass-first playmaker Chris Kramer joins shooting ace Jimmy Baron in the backcourt. Swingman Ben Madgen and combo guard Marc Antonio Carter bolster the perimeter attack, while Travis Peterson, Loukas Mavrokefalidis and Robert Carter will split minutes in the frontcourt. Local players like two-time champ Mindaugas Lukauskis, versatile forward Arturas Jomantas and energetic small forward Rokas Giedraitis will be glue guys on this roster which is primed to compete at the highest level.
Rytas has put together a deep, experienced team that can play at a high rhythm at all times. Chris Kramer will be its floor general; he is a point guard with high basketball IQ whose specialty is finding the open man. Kramer seems to have a sixth sense for long rebounds and steals. He is known for his contributions at both ends of the floor, just like Marc Antonio Carter, who always plays with high intensity, especially on defense. Carter may lead the team on the defensive end and his athleticism and explosiveness will create good scoring options, too. Ben Madgen comes off a strong first EuroCup season, in which he proved to be a good shooter and one-on-one scorer. Jimmy Baron is an elite shooter who is simply deadly from the foul line and should be even more dangerous in his second season with Rytas. Mindaugas Lukauskis is a heady point forward and team leader. Rokas Giedraitis is a great slasher who runs the floor really well. And Margiris Normantas will fight for playing time to showcase his passing skills.
Loukas Mavrokefalidis is a major addition to lead the team in the paint. In his last EuroCup appearance two years ago, Mavrokefalidis led the regular season in scoring (24.2 ppg.) and tied the competition's all-time single-game record for performance index rating (55). Not only is Mavrokefalidis deadly in the low post due to his great hands and smooth post moves, but he can also hit the mid-range jumper with great effectiveness. Rytas also features good shooters to create more space for Mavrokefalidis in the low post. Robert Carter is a great offensive rebounder who can pull the trigger from downtown, but also has great timing for blocks. Travis Peterson is in his third EuroCup season and has proven to be a good rebounder and a deadly three-point shooter (39.2% on 5 shots per game). Arturas Jomantas will provide intensity, sticky defense and experience, while Martynas Echodas is a very effective big man, with great upside; he is one of the top prospects when it comes to European big men.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Linas Kleiza and Loukas Mavrokefalidis were teammates at Olympiacos Piraeus and are set to work together again, this team as sports director and star center. At age 33, Mavrokefalidis is at the prime of his career and can give Rytas the experience and scoring power it needs to be fully competitive in the EuroCup – and elsewhere. He already knows what it takes to go deep in the competition after reaching the EuroCup Semifinals with Spartak St. Petersburg in 2012. Mavrokefalidis played in Greece for the better part of his career with PAOK Thessaloniki, Olympiacos, Panathinaikos Athens, Maroussi and AEK Athens, but has also spent time with teams in Italy, Russia, Spain and most recently, China. He posted numbers not seen in the EuroCup in over a decade for AEK in the 2015-16 season, with an average index rating of 30.7. Only Priest Lauderdale (Lukoil Academic Sofia, 2003-04) had better regular season numbers in competition history. Mavrokefalidis now starts a new chapter in his career, ready to lead a historic EuroCup team.
Most Rytas players have a lot of EuroCup experience; Lukauskis starts his 10th season in the competition, Baron will now play it with a fifth different team, while Marc Antonio Carter, Mavrokefalidis, Peterson, Jomantas, Giedraitis and Kramer have a lot of EuroCup experience, too. That is obviously a plus for Rytas, which will be competitive from the very beginning. Having the winningest coach in competition history on your side is also very important, as Coach Kurtinaitis knows what it takes to go all the way. Rytas has good players in every position who are able to contribute on offense. If the team is able to play defense like a strong unit, very few teams will be able to beat Rytas. Fans in Vilnius will play a big role, as always, pushing their team to new limits as the season goes on - especially in a very difficult regular season group full of tough opponents.