“101 Greats of European Basketball,” a limited-edition collection published in 2018 by Euroleague Basketball, honors more than six decades’ worth of stars who helped lift the sport on the Old Continent to its present-day heights. Author Vladimir Stankovic, who began covering many of those greats in 1969, uses their individual stories and profiles to show that European basketball’s roots run long and deep at the same time that the sport here is nurtured by players from around the world, creating a true team dynamic unlike anywhere else. His survey covers players who were retired before the book was published and who inspired the many others who came after them. Enjoy!
Ramunas Siskauskas – Mr. Three-Pointers
While the 2.20-meter giant Arvydas Sabonis is the greatest talent to come from Lithuania, most of the other great players from the country were point guards or wing players – all great shooters. Sarunas Marciulionis, Valdemaras Chomicius, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Arvydas Macijauskas, Saulius Stombergas and Arturas Karnisovas are just a few. Also belonging to that elite group is Ramunas Siskauskas, who was born on September 10, 1979, in Kaisiadorys, Lithuania, and was a small forward who retired in the summer of 2012 after 14 years as a pro.
Siskauskas’s basketball resume shows that he started at the humble Baltija Kais club 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 positions one through four. He was most efficient on half-court plays with good ball circulation that were designed to showcase his shooting touch.
The most serious part of his career started with his signing at Sakalai in the summer of 1996. Siskauskas played there for two seasons and was called up to the Lithuanian team for the FIBA U22 European Championship in 1998 in Trapani, Italy. Lithuania didn’t do great things at that tournament, but it developed some great players. Kestutis Sestokas, Darius Songaila, Rimantas Kaukenas, Donatas Slanina, Marius Janulis, Arturas Javtokas and Siskauskas himself would take Lithuanian basketball to the top in 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 his duel against Dirk Nowitzki in the game between Germany and Lithuania for seventh place. Germany won 97-95 because Nowitzki scored 34 points, while Siskauskas had 21.
That same summer, Siskauskas took another important step in his career, joining Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius. There, Siskauskas made his debut in European competition in the Saporta Cup. In the 1998-99 season, he averaged 17.5 points and 5.0 rebounds, and in the following one, he had 14.2 points, 5.8 boards and 2.0 assists per game. 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 that day, with 26 points and 8 rebounds, but Siskauskas contributed 9 points. In the ensuing years, I would follow this great player with admiration at the EuroBaskets of 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007, at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, and, of course, in many EuroLeague games, especially his Final Fours.
Explosion in Stockholm
During the 1990s, Yugoslavia was the black beast for Lithuania, but at the turn of the century, things changed. After the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Lithuania again eliminated Yugoslavia in the quarterfinals at the 2003 EuroBasket in Sweden. Yugoslavia said goodbye to its throne by falling 98-82. It was only a warning of what was about to happen. Siskauskas was the best player, with 27 points and 4 rebounds in 28 minutes of lethal shooting: 6 for 8 on two-pointers, 3 for 6 on threes and 6 for 7 at the free throw line. 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 points) and Eurelijus Zukauskas (18). Siskauskas finished the tourney with an average of 14.8 points, one less than Macijauskas, but with almost two more rebounds per game (4.7).
I still remember the great party of the Lithuanian fans, who had traveled en masse to celebrate that first European title for their team since 1939. With players like Jasikevicius, Macijauskas, Stombergas, Siskauskas, Songaila, Slanina, Eurelijus and Mindaugas Zukauskas, Dainius Salenga and Ksistof Lavrinovic, Lithuania played offensively fun-to-watch basketball, with imagination and great shooters. Macijauskas made 42.3% of his shots from the arc, Stombergas was even better (44.4%), and Jasikevicius shot 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
In 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 looking precisely for a great shooter like Siskauskas. During two years in Treviso, Siskauskas didn’t shine, but delivered, with 12 points per game 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 took home-court advantage with a 77-69 road win in Game 1 and finished 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 in the 2006-07 season, consisting of the Greek League, national cup and the EuroLeague title, the team’s first in five years. Siskauskas’s numbers with the Greens dropped to 10.9 points over 20 games, but Obradovic didn’t need more. Siskauskas’s accuracy from behind the arc – 33 of 70, or 47.1% – was the highest of his career, Also, he played his best when his team needed him the most, especially in the unforgettable 2007 EuroLeague championship game against Messina’s CSKA Moscow, a 93-91 win for Panathinaikos in which Siska scored 20 points despite missing all 5 of his three-pointers! He more than made up for those by making 4 of 4 two-pointers and 12 of 17 free throws, plus contributing 4 rebounds and 5 assists in 37 minutes.
That same summer, at the 2007 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 that wasn’t bad 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 another EuroLeague title in 2008 to go with Russian League triumphs. In the 2008 semis in Madrid against Tau Ceramica Vitoria, Siskauskas scored 16 points and then had 13 in the title game against Maccabi. He was chosen as the EuroLeague’s full-season 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 per game.
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 points (48-28), but CSKA rallied in the second half and had possession to win it all in the last seconds. The score was 73-71 for Panathinaikos and CSKA, of course, looked for Siska on the last play. This time, however, the ball did not go in, though just barely. It was one of the few important shots he ever missed.
In the summer of 2009, with Messina on the bench at Real Madrid, it was rumored that Siskauskas 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 response to this issue.
Berlin would not be his last Final Four, as he went to his next one 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. The only thing I wanted was to play the highest level. And my dream came true.”
After the game in Istanbul, Siskauskas 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.
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.”
Messina considered 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. “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 [Matjaz] Smodis. It was a clinic on fundamentals of basketball and we won!”
Nowadays, Ramunas Siskauskas enjoys fishing and walking in nature. He returned to basketball as an assistant coach for the Lithuanian national team last year. He was a champion in four countries, had some national cups thrown in, and won a European national championship and some Olympic metals with his national team. He is a two-time EuroLeague winner, was chosen as the EuroLeague MVP and was included in the EuroLeague’s All-Decade Team for 2000 to 2010.
Not bad for a player who came from nowhere.