A classic 7DAYS EuroCup team – not to mention a two-time champion, returns with a new name, a new logo and renewed ambition. Rytas starts its 11th EuroCup season with a lot of new faces, starting from the top with head coach Dainius Adomaitis, who won the EuroLeague as a player. Rytas also injected plenty of fresh talent to the squad, including EuroCup star Dominique Sutton, who comes off two very strong seasons with Dolomiti Energia Trento. The club landed experienced combo guard D.J. Seeley, rookie scorer Matt Farrell, versatile forward Eimantas Bendzius, center Evaldas Kairys and youngsters Aistis Pilauskas and Lukas Kvedaravicius to help the team in its quest to return its past dominance.
Chris Kramer, Farrell and Seeley will see the big minutes at the guard spots. Kramer is a pass-first playmaker who led the EuroCup in assists (7.4 apg.) last season. He posted career-best numbers in assists, points (11.4 ppg.) and performance index rating (17.1), so Kramer can be expected to continue effectively running the Rytas offense. Farrell is a rookie point guard and dynamic player who can find the open teammate and pull the trigger from downtown (260 three-point attempts in 31 NCAA games with Notre Dame last season). He will start his professional career with Rytas. Seeley is an excellent ball-handler who is deadly from the foul line (91.7% free throws last season). He will not hesitate to look for the ball in do-or-die situations. Mindaugas Girdziunas is an intense and experienced point guard with great court sense, while Pilauskas, Deividas Sirvydis and Margiris Normantas will fight for the remaining playing time.
Bendzius returns to Vilnius after four seasons in Poland and Spain ready to play a difference-making role. He is a versatile player who helps a lot on the boards and can create his own shot. Bendzius can also run the floor well and excels in transition, just like Sutton, Rytas's most important signing this summer. The powerful Sutton is an undersized power forward with outstanding one-on-one skills. He can use his strength to dominate in the low post, but is also fast enough to beat his opponents in one-on-one situations due to his soft touch and terrific determination. Rytas managed to keep up-and-coming big man Martynas Echodas, who will be the team's pillar under the baskets. Echodas is a polished center with great post moves, quick hands and appears ready to take his game to the next level. Arnas Butkevicius is a physical and intense, team-first player. The experienced Kairys can be a perfect complement for Echodas in the paint.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Even though Sutton and Kramer will be very important to Rytas, a lot depends on Echodas and his development. Last season, Echodas was one of the best young players in the EuroCup with 8.3 on 62.2% two-point shooting and 4.5 rebounds in 16 EuroCup games. His per 40-minute averages ranked Echodas 16th in PIR (25.1), ninth in defensive rebounds (7.7) and 24th in scoring (20.4). With a year of EuroCup experience under his belt and extended playing time as his team's main reference in the paint, Echodas should only get better and better. At age 21, Echodas is EuroCup Rising Star Award eligible - and one of the top candidates to get the award at the end of the season.
Rytas reached the Top 16 last season but a 0-3 start was too much for the Lithuanian powerhouse to keep fighting for a playoff spot. With a new coach and six new players, Rytas will need to bond right away to be competitive as soon as possible. With a lot of local and homegrown players plus a point guard in Kramer who knows the environment and thinks team first, Rytas should need less time to click as a team. Its goal has to be to get past the regular season and try to do better in the Top 16 this time around. It won't be easy, as it faces former champions Unicaja Malaga and UNICS Kazan for starters, but Rytas has the experience and talent to be a tough opponent every night.