The Sabonis Cup is the largest and most prestigious tournament organized by the Arvydas Sabonis basketball school. Players such as Andrei Kirilenko (Utah Jazz), Giedrius Gustas (European champion with Lithuania in 2003), Martynas Andriuskevicius (Cleveland Cavaliers) and others are some of the alumni from this event. The Arvydas Sabonis basketball schools own players have been the winners of this tournament in most cases. They were very close this time as well, but were denied by CSKA Moscows juniors in a thrilling final.
The Arvydas Sabonis Basketball School
Before talking about the tournament itself and the players who shined there, we would like to briefly introduce the Sabonis basketball school, which has been delivering talent to the professional basketball world for over a decade now.
In 1994 the legendary Lithuanian center and likely future hall of famer Arvydas Sabonis established the basketball school in his name, with the main purposes of spreading the popularity of the sport of basketball and raising the level of play of its participants to the highest levels possible while preparing them for the various national teams of his home country of Lithuania. People who work there also invest time in improving their players from both the physical and mental aspects of life, while trying to help certain sectors of Lithuanian youth with social problems they may encounter.
There are more than 800 young basketball players in the Arvydas Sabonis school at the moment. They are tutored by coaches who have completed a higher education in basketball training and pedagogical qualification. It is one of the largest basketball schools in Lithuania. Even though the basketball school has only existed for over 10 years, its players have already filled up the Lithuanian Basketball leagues teams. The best players have the opportunity to go straight to Zalgiris Kaunas or Zalgiris junior team, with the junior team playing in the 2nd national Lithuanian League. Zalgiris is currently the champions of the Lithuanian league, as they have been for 10 of the last 12 years. The team also participates in the Euroleague, and is also owned by Arvydas Sabonis, who has started his career in this club some 25 years ago.
The 2005 Arvydas Sabonis Cup
This year 8 teams where divided into two groups of 4: CSKA Moscow (Russia), the Sarunas Marciulionis Basketball Academy (Lithuania), BJBS Keizarmezs (Latvia) and Soder Basket (Sweden) were placed in Group A. The other group consisted of the Arvydas Sabonis Basketball School (Lithuania), BC Kyiv (Ukraine), BK NH Ostrava (Czech Republic) and Brandenburg Basketball Academy (Germany). The teams finished the group stage in the orders they are listed in above, with the two top crews of each group being vastly stronger than the bottom two finishers. However it couldnt be described as a low level tournament with the 4 top teams providing exciting matchups in their head-to-head duels. For next year, the organizers have in mind to consolidate the Arvydas Sabonis Cup with contacts made with basketball schools from the former Yugoslavia region.
Both Lithuanian schools featured only players born in 1988, without the 1989 youngsters whom a few of have already proved to be as good as their year older colleagues. The Sarunas Marciulionis Basketball Academy missed the clear leader of this generation, guard Martynas Gecevicius, who already has a season of professional basketball under his belt and is preparing for the second one with Sakalai Vilnius. That might be why they couldnt handle the fast tempo that the Arvydas Sabonis Basketball School offered in the semifinal game. The team from Kaunas won 90:67 with Paulius Kleiza scoring a game high 31 points. In the other semifinal, CSKAs youngsters edged BC Kyiv in the last minutes 74:67 with 21 points from the eventual tournament MVP Alexey Shved.
The two unbeaten teams met in the finals of the Sabonis Cup, which took place in a crowded Sabonis Basketball School court. For the first time in the tournament's history the final match of the tournament was broadcasted live on Lithuanian television. It was one of the tightest and interesting finals in the 12-year history of this tournament.
Having home court advantage, the Arvydas Sabonis Basketball School started the game fluently and brought their lead to 31:19 before Alexey Shved scored a buzzer beating triple at the end of the 1st quarter to cut the margin to 9. CSKA, coached by former Russian national team player Andrey Maltsev, found various weapons on offense in the 2nd quarter and completely overtook the game to earn a double-digit midway through the 3rd. But after being inspired by a few defensive exploits of their center Rokas Grinius, the Sabonis Basketball School players quickly caught the opponents off-guard and in a dramatic battle the lead started changing from one side to another. In the last 2 minutes with CSKA swamped in the Lithuanian defense, the home team had a few chances to seal the victory, but was shocked with 7 seconds remaining when PG Dmitry Golovin (leading assist-man of the tournament with 4.3 per game) made a jumper and put his team up by one point. 4th quarter hero Paulius Beliavicius was short on his difficult layup in the last Arvydas Sabonis Basketball School possession. CSKA Moscow won the game 96:95 and became the new champions of the Sabonis Cup.
Top Prospects @ Arvydas Sabonis Cup
Alexey Shved, CSKAs leader, was named the MVP of the tournament after scoring 24 points and dishing out 4 assists in the final. He also made it to the all-tournament starting five, along with Paulius Beliavicius, Paulius Kleiza (both from the Arvydas Sabonis Basketball School), Aleksandr Sizov of BC Kyiv and Ivan Nelyubov of CSKA. Arnas Lubys (Sabonis Basketball School) was the slam dunk champion, edging Eddie Ikekwe from Soder Basket (Sweden).
Alexey Shved was there when it mattered the most, but CSKA players performances and behavior on the court proved that they are a team first, and a group of talented prospects second. In spite of that, Shved showed the biggest talent among his teammates. The 6-4 guard mostly occupied the SG spot, but in the decisive moments had to cope with playmaking duties as well. And as you see from his teams results, he did that well.
Shveds personal stats nicely reflect his all around game: 16.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.2 apg and 1.4 spg in only 24 minutes per game. His 52% FG percentage tell not only about his shooting ability, but also about his excellent shot selection for his age. Good ball handling and mature decisions anticipate him to be a point guard in the future, though playing SG isnt out of hand as another possible growth spurt (he is yet to turn 17) might allow him to add an inch or two to his height.
If it wasnt for CSKAs victory in the final, Arvydas Sabonis Basketball School small forward Paulius Kleiza would have probably been the tournament MVP. The definite leader of the team put up impressive numbers and played extremely well until the last game. CSKAs coaching staff was aware of that so Kleiza got enough care from his opponents in the final game and finished with only 13 points on 4/18 FG shooting. Until this game his shooting percentages were extraordinary good: 58.6 FG% and 53.6 3pt%. Paulius finished as the leading scorer and ball-thief of the tournament respectively with 23.2 points and 2.4 steals per game. He wasnt selfish at all and indeed led his team in assists with 2.8 apg along with 4 rebounds. His ability to penetrate and either score at the hoop or dish out to an open teammate makes him hard to contain when taking into consideration that he hit exactly 3 triples per game in this tournament. Kleiza doesnt have the quickest shot release, but when he has a second to set his feet he usually knocks it down from downtown. BC Kyiv had to pay for allowing him to shoot as Paulius made 7/11 shots from beyond the arc in the game for 1st place in the group, which he took completely onto his shoulders and finished with 34 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals.
Along with showing the mentality of a leader, Kleiza has very decent athleticism to boot, which allows him to create opportunities for himself and others on offense. On defense he can usually keep up with his man without any real difficulty. What might spell trouble for him in the future is his height, though, as Paulius is only listed at 6-4 now, but plays only as a small forward for his team. His nice shooting touch would allow him to regroup into a shooting guard, but its quite obvious from watching him that his natural position at the moment is at small forward. We werent first the notice his talent of course, Paulius has already drawn the attention of Zalgiris junior team coaches, and hes been invited to play professional basketball in the 2nd division Lithuanian league.
By the way, some of you might wonder whether Paulius is related to 2005 Lithuanian NBA draftee Linas Kleiza. Though indeed being from the same city of Kaunas these two strong players arent related. Nonetheless, Paulius isnt the first sportsman in his family. His dad Saulius is a multiple time Lithuanian champion and record holder in shot-putting.
Not as blazing as the aforementioned Shved and Kleiza, the other 3 players of the all-tournaments symbolic starting five might deserve a few words as well. 6-4 PG Paulius Beliavicius was Kleizas right hand man in Arvydas Sabonis Basketball School team and fared arguably well, especially in the final game, which he left as the top scorer with 25 points. Consistency and more mature playmaking will need to be developed for this kid and his country, which is desperately searching for a PG to replace Sarunas Jasikevicius when the time comes.
Aleksandr Sizov the 6-6 SF-PF of BC Kyiv only made 41% of FG and 32% of his 3pt shots throughout the Sabonis Cup. However, his 31 points and 9 rebounds were enough to secure the win for the Ukrainians in the bronze medal game to defeat the Sarunas Marciulionis Basketball Academy and for him to take place in the starting 5 of the tournament. In the games vs. both the finalists, though, Sizov wasnt the one to lead his team and his horrible shooting didnt help either. On the bright spot Aleksandr was giving his best under the boards and averaged 5.2 rpg despite playing only 21 minutes per game.
CSKAs Ivan Nelyubov looked very interesting when he entered the court. This 6-9 258 pound center has terrific size and was especially imposing alongside his contemporaries. But his expected domination in the paint didnt happen. On most occasions Ivan wasnt aggressive enough on offense and scored mostly on layups from offensive rebounds, which with such a height and size advantage shouldnt count as a bonus at this level.
His shooting percentages were sort of woeful for a center only 43,8%. On the other hand, Nelyubov wasnt slow for his height and ran the court quite well. The guards also could be blamed for not using him as much as he would like on offense. On the defensive end the Russian stood up for himself and was an imposing figure for rivals to penetrate against, though you couldnt observe that from his blocked shots numbers (0.8 bpg).
An honorable mention should go to two more players from the dramatic final. 6-8 Lithuanian Rokas Grinius enjoyed leading the tournament in two categories: an amazing 78.6% FG shooting and 2.4 blocks per game. Being mostly unnoticed in the shadow of Kleiza and Beliavicius before, Grinius showed his best skills when it was needed the most in the finals when Arvydas Sabonis Basketball School was letting the game slip away in the 3rd quarter. First Rokas lit up the defense with a few highlight blocks, later he showed his leaping ability by dunking over a defender with a foul, inspiring his teammates to make a comeback. Despite being skinny, he used his athleticism well on both ends of the floor, finishing with 23 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks. Grinius completely outplayed Neluybov, who scored only 4 points in the final game. Again, a lack of a few inches (without an additional growth spurt) will make life hard for Grinius at the center position, in which he has played at throughout the tournament. His excellent coordination and quickness would make him a nice fit at the PF spot, but for that Rokas needs to develop a jumper, which he didnt manage to show at all in this tournament.
From the opponents side it was 6-5 Iliya Gusev who kept CSKA in the game with 3 straight triples in the 2nd half. Shooting from downtown was his main weapon and Iliya used it very well, connecting on 55.6% of his attempts. Gusev (as well as Kleiza) has already participated in the Kamkabel International Junior Tournament which was held together with the Euroleague Final Four in Moscow this past May. Despite not playing much there, the fact that he was even invited to a year older squad shows that Gusev is valued by CSKAs coaches. In Kaunas he was teams 2nd best scorer after Shved with 13.8 ppg and also showed nice leadership in key moments.
Whether any of the players mentioned above will have anything to do with NBA draft in the future is yet to be seen. Being only 16 or 17, they have some plenty of time to work on their skills and develop both physically and mentally, which will ultimately decide how far they can go. They did show plenty of initial potential in this Sabonis Cup, though, and DraftExpress.com has once again spanned the globe to let you know about them.