For those who ever thought if Nik Stauskas of KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz had a Lithuanian origin, the answer is a clear yes. He never lived in Lithuania and has visited the country only on holiday, but Stauskas grew up in Canada well aware of his Lithuanian roots and treasures that heritage. Stauskas missed the chance to play his first basketball game as a pro in Lithuania – he was injured when Baskonia visited Zalgiris Kaunas in Round 1 – but hopes to do it in the near future.
"On my dad's side, both of his parents were from Lithuania and they moved over to Canada during [World War II]. On my mom's side, her mom is from Lithuania as well, so three of my four grandparents are from Lithuania," Stauskas recounts.
"My first experience with basketball was being with the Lithuanian club team in Toronto."
His size and the fact that his direct relatives were familiar with the sport brought young Nik into basketball.
"The whole reason for my first experience with basketball was being with the Lithuanian club team in Toronto when I was growing up because my uncle was coaching that team. As an eight-year-old, he wanted me to play for the team," Stauskas said. "I had never played before but he said I was tall and should play with them. After one tournament with them, I fell in love with it and never looked back."
The Lithuanian club he speaks about is Ausra Sports Club, which is a Toronto-based squad for children of Lithuanian descent. They used the Lithuanian language to get a small advantage on the floor.
"We spoke Lithuanian sometimes on the basketball court so that the other team couldn't understand what we were saying!" he recalled with a laugh.
Stauskas learned Lithuanian as a kid and can still read and understand it, but has not used it fluently for many years.
"All of my grandparents would speak Lithuanian to me."
"I speak the language a little bit, but not as good as I used to when I was a kid. All of my grandparents would speak Lithuanian to me, so I kind of was forced to be fluent in it. But as I got older and I moved away from my family, I started to speak it less and over time, so I have forgotten it a little bit," Stauskas told us. "But I think I understand it pretty well in terms of being in contact with people from Lithuania. I have some relatives over there."
Stauskas finally went to Lithuania for the first time in his life three years ago. He was shocked about its high basketball level, but also about other things.
"I didn't know how small the country was! I drove from one side of the country to another in like four or five hours. I had no idea that it was that small. It was really cool just getting a chance to meet some people out there and see their way of life," Stauskas remembers. "I went with my friends to a local gym to play some basketball. I was so blown away by how good everyone in the gym was – just kids, they weren't professionals, they were just playing. I was blown away by how talented everyone was. Everyone could shoot and knew how to play. It was a very cool experience for me. I enjoyed it."
Being in Canada, Stauskas didn't have much contact with Lithuanian basketball at first, but he was 10 and had already started to play basketball when Lithuania beat the United States at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. From that moment, he started to follow Sarunas Jasikevicius, who had 28 points in that game, including several clutch shots down the stretch.
"Jasikevicius was the player I noticed most because of his performance. I loved his ability to shoot the ball and the way he came out of screens. No matter how far away he was from the basket, he was automatic every single time. He could get to the rim, handle the ball and finish," Stauskas recalls. "He definitely caught my attention, and I used to watch a lot of film of [Sarunas] Marciulionis. With the [Golden State] Warriors, he was incredible, with all the stuff he was able to do. Those two are probably my favorite Lithuanian players."
He believes his playing style definitely is influenced by his Lithuanian roots. Stauskas leads Baskonia this season with 28 three-point shots made on 44.4% accuracy. Only six EuroLeague players have made more three-pointers at a higher accuracy rate.
"Jasikevicius was the player I noticed most because of his performance."
"The one thing that stands out to me is that Lithuanians are great shooters. As a kid, shooting kind of ran in my family. My father and my uncle, they really knew how to shoot the basketball, so they began teaching me," Stauskas said. "It became something that I was very passionate about in practice every day, and eventually helped me get to this point where I am at."
Even when he missed his team's game in Kaunas, Stauskas is very much looking forward to playing in his country of origin in the near future.
"I heard a lot of good things about Zalgirio Arena. My teammates told me it is the number one crowd in EuroLeague. They say their fans are unbelievable, and it is really fun," Stauskas said. "When I finally play in Lithuania, I definitely think that my family will come to see me play. Hopefully they will come and we will get a win there!"