Introduction: One of the most historic European basketball clubs, Zalgiris strives to re-enter the small group of elite Euroleague teams, under the management of their notorious owner Vladimir Romanov. With a new coach, plenty of new players but with a new philosophy of signing Lithuanian international veterans, the Lithuanian champions hope to finally start making heads turn in the top competition of the continent.
Theoretically, everything is in place for Zalgiris to do just fine. A huge, brand new arena, financial independence under Romanov, a good coach with previous Euroleague experience, plenty of experienced local and foreign players (Lavrinovic brothers, Kaukenas, Popovic, Jankunas, Kalnietis, Lafayette) and devoted fans. They need to take a step forward this year and make the play-offs, at least.
Coach: Joan Plaza is a well known coach. Although he has done a great job with most clubs he has worked with, his Euroleague campaign with Real Madrid some years ago wasn't that spectacular. That being said, Zalgiris is no Real Madrid and with poor domestic competition the Spanish coach can concentrate on Euroleague games. Of course there is Romanov in the way. The Lithuanian-Russian club owner loves to get his nose everywhere, including the job of his coaches. He needs, for the first time in his life, to be patient with a coach and let him work.
Key Player: Rimantas Kaukenas: The Lithuanian veteran shooting guard will be the coner stone of Zalgiris offensive plays. The charismatic scorer has averaged double digit scoring in every single of his 10 years in European cups career. Being a local is just another reason for his already dynamic character to lead this team not only in scoring, but mentally too.
Breakout Player: With the majority of their players already past their prime or have proven everything they could prove, the player to watch is Mindaugas Kuzminskas. Although neither Zouros or Trifunovic were willing to give him a chance last season, the youngster played a solid game whenever he was used. All he needs is trust and playing time to evolve into a reliable gear of Zalgiris machine, taking advantage of his length to cause mismatches.
Biggest Euroleague Moment: No doubts, winning Euroleague in 1999. With a unique philosophy, quick and attractive game, the squad consisting of local players paired with great American college legends, that team went against all odds to win the trophy, just a year after winning Saporta Cup. That Kazlauskas team set the trend for the new millenium Euroleague basketball. It took it from boring, low-tempo, defense oriented game established by the likes of Bozidar Maljkovic and co to a new up-tempo, quick, free basketball which allowed for the sport to flourish. It was not just the best Euroleague moment for the Lithuanian powerhouse, it was also the biggest milestone of modern Euroleague basketball itself.