Person of Interest: Raptors’ coaching candidate Sarunas Jasikevicius

During Tim and Sid the duo talked to Chris Mannix about Dwane Casey's future and if taking the Detroit Pistons’ job is a good thing for his career. As well, where the Toronto Raptors should be looking for their next head coach.

A little less than one month after the Toronto Raptors fired Dwane Casey, the winningest coach in franchise history, the team remains in search for a replacement.

The Raptors are reported to have interviewed or expressed interest with a number of coaches thus far. An early favourite, Mike Budenholzer, met with the club before deciding to take the head coaching gig with the Milwaukee Bucks. Of the internal candidates, three names have emerged — assistants Nick Nurse and Rex Kalamian, and Raptors 905 bench boss Jerry Stackhouse.

Among the remaining external candidates, San Antonio Spurs assistants Ime Udoka and Ettore Messina are in the running and formally interviewed last week.

On Tuesday a new name emerged:

Jasikevicius has successfully made the leap from a legendary playing career in Europe to the head coaching ranks with Zalgiris Kaunas in Lithuania (with a roster that includes Canadian EuroLeague standout Kevin Pangos). Jasikevicius could be in line for his biggest leap yet.

Here’s what you need to know about the Raptors’ latest head coaching candidate:

Name: Sarunas Jasikevicius
Age: 42
Hometown: Kaunas, Lithuania
NBA coaching experience: None

Rising star

A four-time EuroLeague champion, three-time Greek League champion, two-time Spanish and Israeli league champion, as well as Slovenian Cup, Turkish Cup, and Lithuanian league champ, Jasikevicius was no stranger to winning in his playing days.

After retiring from Lithuanian league powerhouse Zalgiris Kaunas in 2014, the six-foot-four point guard became an assistant coach with the club the following season. In 2016 he took over as head coach for Zalgiris and the team has won two Lithuanian league titles in as many years with Jasikevicius at the helm.

In EuroLeague competition he made an early impression thanks to a 75-55 upset victory over defending finalist Olympiacos during his first season:

Jasikevicius was named Lithuania’s Coach of the Year in the 2017 and finished third in EuroLeague voting for the award.

This past season, he coached Zalgiris to a 22-14 record in the EuroLeague and the team reached the final four for the first time since 1999.

Given all he’s accomplished in just two full seasons of coaching it’s no wonder NBA teams like Toronto are already seriously considering fast-tracking Jasikevicius to an NBA head coaching job.

Raptors & NBA connection

Although he’s only coached in Europe, where he also spent the majority of his playing career, Jasikevicius is very familiar with the North American game.

For starters, he played high school basketball in the United States, moving from his home country to play his senior year at Solanco High School in Pennsylvania. He played point guard at Maryland for four years but went undrafted in the 1998 draft.

He would eventually play in the NBA, signing a free agent deal with the Indiana Pacers in 2005. As a 29 year-old rookie, Jasikevicius played 75 games for the playoff-bound Pacers, and averaged a little over seven points and three assists in 21 minutes per game. He spent two more years in the league before returning to Europe.

At Zalgiris last season, Jasikevicius found success while coaching ex-NBA players Beno Udrih and former Denver Nuggets forward and Raptors 905 star Axel Toupane.

The Raptors ties don’t end there with the prospective coach. The most obvious connection is between Jasikevicius and fellow Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors centre who is coming off his best season yet.

Having played together on the Lithuanian national team, Jasikevicius has had a first-hand look at the 26 year-old’s development and, with the exception of maybe Nurse, would have the strongest relationship with him as any coaching candidate thus far.

The two were also teammates on Lietuvos rytas in 2010, the year before Valanciunas made his NBA debut, and can be seen sharing the court here:

Storied career

A gifted passer and highly effective floor general, Jasikevicius raked in awards at virtually every stage and stop during a 16-year professional career.

He’s won four EuroLeague titles, been named MVP in four different leagues, EuroLeague Finals MVP in 2005, All-Europe Player of the Year twice (2004, 2005), and in 2003 was named FIBA EuroBasket MVP after leading Lithuania to gold — among many more accolades.

Jasikevicius made a name for himself internationally thanks to a number of stellar performances for Lithuania against top competition.

At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Jasikevicius orchestrated a near-upset of Team USA in the semifinals, scoring a tournament-high 27 points:

Long story short, Jasikevicius is one of the all-time greats in European basketball, with the resume to back it up.

Do you have kids?

Jasikevicius briefly went viral around this time last year for his response to a reporter asking about one of his players missing a playoff game to attend the birth of his child.

“What do I think about it? I allowed him to go,” he responded. When asked if it was “normal” for a player to do so in a crucial game, Jasikevicius asked. “Do you have kids? When you have kids, youngster, you will understand. Because that is the height of the human experience.”

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