Even though when it comes to the greatest talent to come from Lithuania, it is a 2.20-meter giant named Arvydas Sabonis, most of the great players from the country were point guards or wing players, all of them great shooters. Sarunas Marciulionis, Valdemaras Chomicius, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Arvydas Macijauskas, Saulius Stombergas, Arturas Karnisovas… just to name a few. Also belonging to that elite group is Ramunas Siskauskas (born September 10, 1979 in Kaisiadorys, Lithuania), a shooting guard who retired in the summer of 2012 after 14 years as a pro.
His basketball resume shows that he started at the humble Baltija Kais with very good numbers during the 1994-95 (16.5 points per game) and 1995-96 (17.3 ppg.) seasons. From the beginning of his career, his best weapon was his shot. He needed minimal space to shoot. Though many players shoot like he did, not many actually put the ball in the net like he did. He was fast and tall (1.98 meters) and strong for his position; he jumped well, could run the fast break and played the one through four positions, however he was more efficient on static plays, with good ball circulation and plays designed to showcase his shooting wrist.
The most serious part of his career started with his signing for Sakalai in the summer of 1996. He played there for two seasons and was called up to the Lithuanian Under-22 national team at the European championships in 1998 in Trapani, Italy. Lithuania didn’t do great things in this tournament, but it won the most important thing: great players. Kestutis Sestokas, Darius Songaila, Rimantas Kaukenas, Donatas Slanina, Marius Janulis, Arturas Javtokas and Siskauskas himself would take Lithuanian basketball to the top the following years. In Trapani, Siskauskas was the fourth-best scorer on his team with 10 points per game and 4.3 rebounds, but you could already see his potential. Witnesses still remember a duel against Dirk Nowitzki in the game between Germany and Lithuania for seventh place. Germany won 97-95 because Nowitzki scored 34 points and Siskauskas “only” 21.
That same summer he took another important step in his career; he joined Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius. There Siskauskas made his debut in European competition in the Saporta Cup. In the 1998-99 seasson, he averaged 17.5 points and 5.0 rebounds and in the following one he had 14.2 points, 5.8 boards plus 2.0 assists. If I remember correctly, I saw him for the first time at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. In the quarterfinals, Lithuania, who would go on to win the bronze medal, eliminated Yugoslavia, 76-63. Gintaras Einikis was the main Lithuanian executioner with 26 points and 8 rebounds, but Siskauskas contributed with 9 points. The following years I would follow this great player with admiration at the EuroBaskets of 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007, the Olympics in Athens in 2004 and also, of course, in many Euroleague games, especially his Final Fours.
Explosion in Stockholm
During the 1990s, Yugoslavia was a black beast for Lithuania, but at the turn of the century things changed.After Sydney, Lithuania again eliminated Yugoslavia in the quarterfinals at EuroBasket 2003 in Sweden. Yugoslavia said goodbye to its throne by falling 82-98. It was only a warning of what was about to happen. Siskauskas was the best player with 27 points and lethal shooting: 6 of 8 twos, 3 of 6 threes and 6 of 7 free throws plus 4 rebounds in 28 minutes. In the semis, Lithuania disposed of France and Tony Parker 74-70 and did the same in the title game with Pau Gasol’s Spain, 93-84. Lithuania had nine scorers that night led by Arvydas Macijauskas (21) and Eurelijus Zukauskas (18). Siskauskas finished the tourney with a 14.8 average, one point less than Macijauskas, but with almost two more rebounds per game (4.7).
I still remember the great party of the Lithuanian fans, who massively traveled to celebrate the first title for their team since 1939. With players like Jasikevicius, Macijakuskas, Stombergas, Siskauskas, Songaila, Slanina, the two Zukauskas (Eurelijus and Mindaugas), Salenga, Kristof Lavrinovic… Lithuania played offensive fun-to-watch basketball, with imagination and great shooters. Macijauskas averaged 42.3% from the arc, Stombergas was even better (44.4%), Jasikevicius 34.2%… It was impossible for opponents to play defense, because some guy in green was always ready to bury the shot.Unforgettable.
Treviso, Athens, Moscow
Ramunas Siskauskas – PanathinaikosIn the summer of 2004, at nearly 26 years of age, Siskauskas left his country with two league titles (2000, 2002). His first stop was Benetton Treviso, coached by Ettore Messina, who was precisely looking for a profile just like Siskauskas’s: a great shooter. During two years in Treviso, Siskauskas didn’t shine, but delivered, with 12 points in the Euroleague and 41.9% shooting from downtown. In the Italian League his numbers were even better, 14.8 points and 14.0 in his two seasons. In 2005-06, coached by David Blatt, Benetton won the Italian League title. Climamio Bologna had won the regular season, but in the finals, Benetton regained home-court advantage already in Game 1 (69-77) and won the series 3-1. Siskauskas shined in the finals with 19, 17, 22 and 18 points in four decisive performances. His overall average in Italy was 14.6 points and 42.7% from beyond the arc.
After two years in Treviso, Zeljko Obradovic set his eyes on “Siska” and managed to sign him for Panathinaikos. The results were impressive.A triple crown with the Greek League and Cup plus the Euroleague. His numbers with the Greens dropped to 10.9 points in 20 games, but Obradovic didn’t need more. His accuracy from behind the arc was the best of his career, 33 of 70 (47.1%!). Also, he played his best when his team needed him the most, especially in the unforgettable Euroleague championship game against Messina’s CSKA Moscow for a 93-91 win, in which Siska scored 20 points with… 0 of 5 threes! However, he made up for that with 4 of 4 twos and 12 of 17 free throws, plus 4 rebounds and 5 assists in 37 minutes.
That same summer, in the EuroBasket in Spain, Lithuania won the bronze medal as Siskauskas tallied 13.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists. At the end of the year he was named the best Lithuanian sportsman for 2007. From that summer I still can remember how angry Obradovic was when Panathinaikos let Siskauskas go. As if it was not enough, he was joining a big rival, CSKA.
Moscow would become Siska’s last stop. He stayed in the Russian capital for five seasons and won five Russian League titles plus another Euroleague in Madrid 2008. In the semis against Tau Ceramica Vitoria, he scored 16 points and then 13 in the title game against Maccabi. He was chosen as the Euroleague MVP. In 24 games his numbers were the usual: 14 points plus 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists. In the summer of 2008, he retired from the national team after the Beijing Olympics. where he was worth 11 points and 4 rebounds.
Coming from nowhere
In Berlin 2009, Siskauskas played his third straight Euroleague championship game, but this time he did not lift the trophy, even if it was as close as ever. Panathinaikos led CSKA Moscow by 20 (48-28) but the comeback started in the second half of the game and CSKA had a possession to win it all in the last seconds. The score was 73-71 for Panathinaikos and CSKA, of course, looked for Siskas on the last play. However, this time the ball did not go in. One of the few important shots he ever missed.
LeBron James and Ramunas Siskauskas (photo M. Serbin, cskabasket.com) In the summer of 2009, with Messina on the bench at Real Madrid, it was rumored that he would travel to Spain, but he decided to stay in Moscow. He wasn’t interested in the NBA either. “I don’t want to go there to see games from the bench” was his answer to this issue.
Berlin would not be his last Final Four, as he still went to another in 2010 in Paris, but fell in the semis to eventual champion FC Barcelona. Then, in 2012, he was a part of the CSKA Moscow team that fell to the famous Georgios Printezis shot that gave a title to Olympiacos in the last second in Istanbul.
Before the 2011-12 season, Siskauskas told Euroleague.net:
“I didn’t go to any sports school when I was a kid. I was just playing outside with my friends. I can say that I came from nowhere. Let’s say from outside, from the field, I came to basketball. And I reached a lot of things. Everything I wanted was to play to play the highest level. And my dream came true.”
After the game in Istanbul he decided to retire, and he announced it on May 21, 2012. On the CSKA website he explained:
“It was not a sudden decision. I made my choice in the middle of the season. It was not connected with anything specific – I just feel I should stop. I can only be excited about my career. God led me to numerous accomplishments though I started playing basketball late and I don’t have any basketball school behind my back. I was happy to play for several great teams, to win a number of titles. I am glad I was able to quit as a significant player, playing for such great team and organization as CSKA Moscow.” Siskauskas played a total of 143 Euroleague games for three teams and averaged 11.6 points with 41.9% shooting from beyond the arc, Mr. Three-Pointers!
Messina recalled coaching Siskauskas fondly. “He is an excellent person, a professional with a great work ethic and an honest man who always looks you in the eyes. He was reserved but not closed, with personality and curiosity to learn.” Messinas called him a “silent killer,” who could score in the low post and penetrate. He was never afraid to take on more responsibility.
“I remember a game CSKA played against Unics Kazan, where we had a lot of injuries and we were trailing in the first half,” Messina said recently. “By the last quarter, two starters had fouled out and we were playing with three young players. We ran only pick-and-roll plays in the middle of the court between Siskauskas and Smodis. It was a clinic on fundamentals of basketball and we won!”
Nowadays, Ramunas Siskauskas enjoys fishing and walking in nature. Basketball is part of his past, albeit a beautiful one. He was champion in four countries, had some national cups thrown in, and a European championship and some Olympic metals with his national team. He was chosen as a Euroleague MVP and, of course, was included in the All-Euroleague Decade Team.
( May, 2014)