Representing your country internationally is a major honor for athletes. And for Marek Blazevic, playing for Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius is just as golden an opportunity as wearing the Lithuania jersey.
That is because the Rytas center was born and raised in Vilnius. Blazevic has already done both. After playing for Lithuania at the FIBA U16 European Championship last summer, the big man starred for U18 Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius at the Euroleague Basketball ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT Kaunas.
"It’s an amazing feeling to be born in Vilnius and play for Rytas. That’s like playing for the Lithuanian national team," said Blazevic, who made the ANGT Kaunas All-Tournament Team after he averaged 12.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks per game.
He helped Rytas beat U18 Stellazzurra Rome in the Kaunas final to reach the ANGT Finals for the sixth time. "Those emotions are for the rest of my life," said Blazevic, who picked up 19 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks in the win over Stellazzurra.
Now it’s time for Blazevic and co. to look to add a second U18 continental title to Rytas's trophy-case following the crown in 2012.
"We have to play with the atmosphere of a team and that passion of basketball. Not every time will talent win. You have to want to grab the rebound, to box out your man,” the 17-year-old, who joined Rytas over the summer, said.
That feeling of unity was a major reason Rytas was able to win the ANGT Kaunas, according to Blazevic. "We were a team. We were one fist. Everyone was happy. It’s amazing to play on a team where everyone is happy," he said.
Playing for Lithuania is also a thrill for Blazevic, whose parents were born in Lithuania, but his maternal grandfather was Polish. The 2.07-meter big man speaks Polish; he attended a Polish school in Lithuania. That was his grandmother’s wish since his mother went to a Russian school during the Soviet Union and could not join the Polish school.
Blazevic also started his sports playing with another ball. "It was first grade and everybody said let’s go play football. I was young and wanted to be with my friends," Blazevic remembered. "I was playing football and the basketball coach saw me and asked if I wanted to try basketball. I liked it and here I am now."
Here for Blazevic is still early in his development, but already having made a name in the game. And he is not afraid to work hard on his game - looking to Dario Saric and Anthony Davis as far as basketball role models go.
"I like those types of guys and how they play," Blazevic said. "They play fast. They are not slow big men. They can shoot, they can switch to the four spot. I like that type of game, and I am trying to copy it."
Blazevic would love to copy Saric in another way too. The Croatian star won the ANGT title in 2011 with U18 KK Zagreb. That was the year before Rytas won its only crown, and Blazevic is eager to give his hometown fans another reason to celebrate.