Gamecocks MBB Lithuanian Connection


For any new fans of the South Carolina Gamecocks men’s basketball team, working your way through the names of junior forwards Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindagus Kacinas can be quite a chore.  However if you have been following USC for a while, you have had enough practice to make navigating these names easier.  The two current players and the 4th and 5th Gamecocks over the last 12 years to hail from Lithuania, joining former players Marius Petravicius, Paulius Joneliunas, and Evka Banulis.

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Much like the team’s performances this season, Carolina has received mixed results from their Lithuanian pipeline.  Joneliunas was a little used 6’10 center who was here for the 03-04 and the start of the 04-05 season before deciding to transfer to American university.  Evka Banulis (2006-10) was a role player who was mainly looked to for his 3pt range, hitting 90 threes and shooting 46% from beyond the arc during his sophomore and junior seasons before his production fell of drastically his senior year.  While 6’10 center Marius Petravicius(1999-2003) had the same type of uneven career at USC as the two country men he preceded, he went on to have success in his pro career in Europe and for the Lithuanian National team.  He has twice won the MVP of the FIBA Euro Cup, winning the prestigious club competition in 2004 and 2009, and has played in multiple Olympics and FIBA World Championships, throughout a pro career that lasted for over a decade.

Now, with the history lesson done, we’re back to the Lithuanian connection on this year’s team.  Not only is there a link between current and former players due to their country of origin, but Kacinas and Chatkevicius have been known each other since they were kids as well.  Both young men were part of coach Frank Martin’s first recruiting class, along with forward Michael Carrera, but their connection goes back longer than that. As a kid, Chatkevicius was a student of Kacinas’ mother, and the two have known each other since.  Last summer both guys played for the Under 21 Lithuanian National team in the European Championships, allowing both to gain recognition and valuable experience in their home country.  Now they are finishing up their third season as teammates here, and continue to work hard to improve their games.

6’11 Laimonas Chatkevicius has been a mainstay for the Gamecocks in the post this season, having started 21 of the team’s 28 games.  For the year he is averaging 9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game, but his inconsistency has left coaches and fans wanting more.  Often throughout his career and including this season he would follow-up a good performance with one where he barely made an impact.  Early in the season he had two separate stretches in which he posted double figures in scoring for three consecutive games, but more often he has had a good scoring game, only to squander any momentum or confidence he might have gained from it, by playing poorly in the subsequent game.  The hope is he has finally started to turn the corner and will become a more reliable scoring option in the paint as this season winds down and he moves into his senior year.  In the last two games, a 59-51 road loss at Alabama and a 81-68 home victory against Miss State, Big L has had 18 points and 9 rebounds in both contests.  Martin has frequently said he wants the big man to be more active and aggressive on the offensive end, and is also urging him to grab more rebounds and remain a force in the paint on both ends of the floor.

“Mindagus is the kind of player you love to coach, he’ll run through a brick wall if you ask him to.” Coach Martin said of the junior forward earlier this season.

Mindagus Kacinas has been more of a role player for Carolina this year, having not started a game, but he has played in all 28 and averages 21 minutes a game.  Known more as an energy and hustle player, Kacinas contributes 6.3 points and 5.3 rebounds a contest. He also leads the Gamecocks with 71 offensive rebounds on the year, having displayed a solid, though unorthodox, ability to get tip-in baskets off of his teammates misses.  His best game was a road win in Georgia, where he finished with 13 and 9, including a couple of the aforementioned tip-ins.  “Mindagus is the kind of player you love to coach, he’ll run through a brick wall if you ask him to.” Coach Martin said of the junior forward earlier this season.

Both Chatkevicius and Kacinas have shown good shooting touch, being the only two players shooting over 50% this year, as well as, hitting over 70% from the free throw line.  The 3-point shot has also been added to each of their games.  Both make above 30% from 3-point range, after rarely attempting any long-range shots over their first two seasons in Columbia.  The steady improvement that each has shown over their careers is a testament to the work and effort they have put in to their games.  This should lead to each of them expanding their roles and providing needed to help the team next year, their final season with the Gamecocks.