Sarunas Jasikevicius is known throughout Europe for his legendary playmaking skills and winner’s mentality. “Saras” was U18 Zalgiris Kaunas playmaker Arnas Velicka’s favorite player growing up. And the 16-year-old’s interaction with the Zalgiris professional team head coach helped him shine at the 2016 EUROLEAGUE BASKETBALL ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT Finals.
“It’s a very good experience. It’s very nice when you can speak with the legend and see him in front of you and sometimes get advice from him,” Velicka said about his relationship with the fellow Kaunas native.
“He was a point guard like me - all of those good decisions he made and all those passes and no-looks. He was so great.”
Velicka is getting some time to interact with the four-time Euroleague champion and Euroleague Basketball Legend because he’s playing this season with Zalgiris’ second team in the NKL second division and Jasikevicius sometimes comes around to work with the club’s 16 to 21 year old players.
“We talk about how to pass, how to dribble. That’s what you do when you’re a point guard,” said Velicka.
The playmaker, who doesn’t turn 17 years old until December 10, has seen a drastic development in his game this season thanks also to Jasikevicius’s tutelage.
Over the course of his first season with the second team, Velicka progressed his way up to the first backup at point guard.
“I started with the team and it was difficult because I never played with men in professional basketball. At first it was tough but as the season went on I just started doing the things I do when I play against players my same age,” said Velicka, who averaged 4.7 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 0.8 steals in 14 minutes per game in the NKL.
“I just tried to not think that they are bigger, stronger or older than me. And I think I did very well.”
He helped Zalgiris’s second team to reach the finals of the NKL playoffs, where it lost to Suduva-Mantinga Marijampole.
Velicka thinks his defense improved as did his athleticism. He also admits that he started weight-lifting for the first time.
“I did it this season so my body is stronger. And that helps me the most I think.”
Velicka was also one of the major leaders for Zalgiris at the ANGT Qualifying Tournament Kaunas as he averaged 13.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 10.2 assists - including 16 assists in the ANGT Kaunas final.
At the ANGT Finals in Berlin, Velicka collected 16.7 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals.
This season was actually Velicka’s second in the ANGT after being with Zalgiris at the 2015 ANGT Finals in Madrid, where collected 3 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal in 15 minutes over three games.
Even last May, Velicka was beginning to learn a new set of lessons from older high level talents such as Martynas Echodas, Martynas Varnas and Laurynas Birutis - all three his teammates with Zalgiris’s second team in the NKL.
“I learn a lot every day I play with them. We have a good time. I’m the youngest so they teach me how to play and do things, and just share their experience,” Velicka said.
But Velicka’s biggest mentor remains Jasikevicius.