|22 February 2013|
| Linas Kleiza is now looking likely to miss back-to-back EuroBasket tournaments|
Lithuania head coach Jonas Kazlauskas could very well be thinking that he should call his predecessor, Kestutis Kemzura, at some point soon, to ask him for advice.
Not on tactical issues of course, but because when the time comes for Kazlauskas to name his preliminary squad for EuroBasket 2013, he might find himself in a situation similar to what Kemzura had to deal with during his spell at the helm of the national team.
According to Friday media reports in the Baltic country, forward Linas Kleiza is struggling with his return from injury and is considering a second arthroscopic surgery, following the one he underwent in 2011 that sidelined him for months.
Kleiza has only featured in 20 games with the Toronto Raptors this season. He last played in an NBA game on 28 December and has been on the injury list ever since.
Citing the doctor of the Lithuanian Olympic team, Dalius Barkauskas, and the former manager of the national team, Antanas Guoga, who is said to be close to the player, a report on website 15min.lt suggests that right now not only the remainder of the season, but even the rest of Kleiza's career hang in the balance.
According to Guoga, there were complications following the 2011 surgery in the United States and Kleiza's rehabilitation did not go as it should have, causing the player to under-perform since returning to action.
"[At the London Olympics] he was very hurt and this caused him psychological problems," Guoga told 15min.lt.
"It was difficult for Linas to deal with the situation, his mind wanted to help the team but his body could not respond, he wanted to give much more than he could [physically].
"I think that Linas should be treated by our doctors [in Lithuania].
"I know for sure that the Lithuanian Basketball Federation will do everything possible to help the player."
Pending confirmation, this looks increasingly like a case of deja vu for the Baltic country.
Kleiza went through something similar ahead of EuroBasket 2011, as he played in only 39 games during the 2010/11 season before undergoing the first knee surgery.
Kemzura had waited on him until June while he was rehabilitating, but was ultimately forced to omit him from the team that would represent the host country in the most important event since its independence.
"I receive positive and negative news," commented a concerned Kazlauskas.
"I am very alarmed about Linas. He has been the cornerstone of the team in the last tournaments and I hope that he will be able to cope with the difficulties."
|Paulius Jankunas is another player in question for the Lithuanians this summer|
The worrying report on Kleiza's state of health comes only a few days after Zalgiris Kaunas captain Paulius Jankunas announced that he would have to undergo an operation on his shoulder, as treatment for a lingering problem had failed to alleviate the pain.
Jankunas, who has been a permanent member of every Lithuanian squad in the last three major tournaments including the 2010 World Championship, EuroBasket 2011 and the London Olympics, is expected to return to action in about four months' time and, if everything goes well, he should be available to travel to Slovenia.
The importance of a healthy Kleiza to Lithuania's chances at EuroBasket 2013 though cannot be overstated, and probably no one knows this better than Kemzura.
In the run up to the 2010 World Championship, Lithuania's former coach could only watch as first Ramunas Siskauskas confirmed his retirement from international duty and then another charismatic small forward, Arvydas Macijauskas, who wanted to return to the team, was unable to recover from serious injuries and retired from the game prematurely.
Later, Kemzura found out he also did not have the services of the Lavrinovic brothers, Darjus and Ksistof; Sarunas Jasikevicius, who had formed the backbone of the national team with the Lavrinovic brothers for years; as well as Rimantas Kaukenas.
To the surprise of even their most optimistic fans, Kemzura and Lithuania defied all odds in that tournament and left Turkey with the bronze medal.
A great part of the success was down to Kleiza stepping up and carrying the weight of the team on his shoulders.
In his best-ever tournament in a national team shirt, he led Lithuania in scoring and rebounding, averaging 19 points and 7.1 boards per game to make the All-Tournament Team and share the limelight with MVP Kevin Durant of the USA.