LONDON — Unlike many of the other teams in this competition, certain members of the Lithuanian contingent here at the Olympics have tangible knowledge of what it feels like to take a bite out of the machine that is the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team.
Before the U.S. program was back to its current and dominant state, basketball-mad Lithuania shocked the basketball world with a during the 2004 Olympics, a loss the U.S. made up for in the bronze medal game.
Veteran Lithuanian guard Sarunas Jasikevicius led the charge in that 2004 upset and is still on the roster, along with fellow former NBA player Darius Songaila. But times have changed a bit since then for both sides.
The U.S. is back to its gold medal ways, courtesy of the complete program makeover engineered by USA Basketball chairman and managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski. The U.S. is chasing a second straight gold medal and has won their three games here by a jaw-dropping average of 52.3 points, a figure boosted significantly by Thursday night’s record-setting 83-point drubbing of Nigeria.
Lithuania is still one of the world’s most formidable outfits, the mere mention of the three-time Olympic bronze medalists prompts an immediate demeanor shift for Krzyzewski. But they are not among the favorites in this tournament, relying as much or more on younger stars like Linas Kleiza and prized Toronto Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas to carry the team than they do some of their stars from previous teams.