Jasikevicius Looks for NBA Shot

Lithuanian Sarunas Jasikevicius, 29, who played for Maryland from 1994 to 1998,
Lithuanian Sarunas Jasikevicius, 29, who played for Maryland from 1994 to 1998, "is a rock star in Europe," says Terrapins Coach Gary Williams. (By Michael Conroy -- Associated Press)
By Greg Abel
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 29, 2005

When Gary Williams took his University of Maryland men's basketball team to Italy last summer, European fans kept asking Maryland players and coaches about a particular former player who has become a global superstar with a reputation for delivering championships.

Steve Francis? Juan Dixon?

No, the former Terrapin with the biggest reputation outside the United States is none other than Sarunas Jasikevicius, who played for Maryland from 1994 to 1998.

"He's a rock star in Europe," Williams said of the 6-foot-4 Lithuanian, who recently led Maccabi Tel Aviv to its second consecutive Euroleague title.

A solid but unspectacular player in College Park, the 29-year-old Jasikevicius has blossomed into perhaps Europe's most popular and respected player. His leadership and consistent ability to perform in the clutch has made NBA teams almost as high on "Saras," as he is known, as the rabid Maccabi fans, who have devoted Web sites, short films and "please stay" petitions to try to keep him.

As NBA teams evaluate their needs following last night's draft, however, it appears that Jasikevicius will finally make his debut in the NBA next season, more than seven years after departing College Park. He has emerged as one of the hottest -- if perhaps trickiest to pronounce -- free agent names of the summer. (It's pronounced yes-uh-KA-vi-shus).

Indiana, Portland, Boston, Dallas, Utah and Cleveland are interested in the point guard-shooting guard, according to league sources.

"He has a legitimate NBA game," Toronto Raptors General Manager Rob Babcock said last month during the Euroleague Final Four in Moscow.

Now that the league has a new labor deal in place, the player's agent, Doug Neustadt of McLean-based Octagon, can begin talking to teams on July 1 and hopes to strike a multiyear deal soon thereafter. For Jasikevicius, an NBA contract would mark the end to an amazing run as a superstar in Europe and the start of a new challenge as a rookie in the NBA.

"I know that my time is now," he said. "I'm very happy with what I've done, but the NBA has always been my dream."

Jasikevicius acknowledges that he wasn't good enough for the NBA when he left Maryland after averaging 12.4 points per game his senior year. He went home to Lithuania in 1998 and played for one season, then moved to Slovenia for another, all the while gaining confidence. In 2000, Jasikevicius joined Spanish power Barcelona and remained for three seasons, piling up championships and accolades, including one Euroleague and two Spanish League titles.

In Europe, Jasikevicius has played the point, unlike his career at Maryland, where he found himself on the wing and without much leadership responsibility.

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