In two weeks, Rytas Vilnius's under-18 team will take the floor at the Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament qualifying event in Kaunas looking to begin the climb to do what the club accomplished less than two years ago: advance to the ANGT Finals and then capture the continental crown. After watching Rytas defeat AS Monaco 80-75 at Siemens Arena on Wednesday night, Rytas's top juniors have more to strive for. The biggest stars of Rytas's 2018 ANGT championship side, tournament MVP Deividas Sirvydis and his all-tournament teammate Marek Blazevic, played pivotal roles in leading the team to a key victory in the 7DAYS EuroCup Top 16.
Sirvydis, 19, played with confidence as a go-to scorer with the second unit and finished with 11 points in 18:32 off the bench. His first basket, a three-pointer, gave Rytas a 20-19 lead in the second quarter. After the lead swung back and forth, Sirvydis ended the first half with a triple that restored a Rytas advantage, 33-31, at halftime. Rytas was on a roll when he came in during the third quarter and Sirvydis put together 5 straight points to give his team its biggest lead of the night, 58-49.
Blazevic, 18, had only played in five games before this one and did not appear in either of the first two Top 16 games. However, with 2019 EuroCup Rising Star and Rytas's starting center, Martynas Echodas, sidelined, Blazevic was not only called into action, but he was sent out for the opening tip. He did not disappoint in his maiden EuroCup start, posting 6 points and 4 rebounds in 14:51.
The center did much of his damage in the fourth quarter with 4 points and 3 rebounds in the last 6 minutes of the game. His put-back of his own miss and foul gave Rytas a 71-65 lead. Them with down 3 in the penultimate minute, Pako Cruz missed a three-pointer, but Monaco could not contend with Blazevic on the offensive glass. Norris Cole fouled the teenager, who split the resulting free throws with 1:18 remaining to make it a two-possession game.
When the game ended and Coach Dainius Adomaitis spoke to the television cameras, there was only one player's name who he mentioned: "I'm just happy for our guys, especially for the young guys like Blazevic, who is an 18-year-old kid playing at this level. He played good minutes and he played with the right energy. We are happy for them. Everyone used his chance."
There was much to celebrate in the capital of Lithuania after the final buzzer. First and foremost was the win that put Rytas in a share of first place in Group G. The fact that it was so ably aided by stars of the next generation to do so – and that they are setting an example for the generation behind them – shows that Rytas is not only in a strong position in the 2019-20 EuroCup, but for years to come.