Jasikevicius 3-point shot short of upset

September 30, 2000|By John Eisenberg

SYDNEY, Australia - He didn't have enough time to settle his feet, square up and shoot.

If he had, Sarunas Jasikevicius, the former University of Maryland basketball star, might well have nailed the 23-foot jumper he needed to make to complete one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history last night.

"Unfortunately, I just had enough time to throw up a prayer," Jasikevicius said. "That was a one-in-a-million shot."

Had it gone in, a young Lithuanian team without a single player drawing an NBA paycheck would have beaten the formidable collection of NBA stars who make up the United States team, with Jasikevicius improbably leading the way.

"We had them, no question about it," Jasikevicius said some 12 hours later, before an afternoon practice today in Sydney. "We let it get away before that last shot. It never should have come down to that."

Even then, with just a heartbeat or two more, Jasikevicius could have settled his feet and taken a good shot instead of rushing after shaking U.S. guard Jason Kidd. That could have spelled defeat for the Dream Team. As Maryland fans know, if there's one thing Jasikevicius can do, it's hit three-pointers. That was his trademark during a four-year career at College Park in which he began at the end of the bench and wound up as a starter and major contributor.

"He's a great shooter," U.S. star Vince Carter said. "But he did a lot more than shoot in this game."

That, he did. Jasikevicius, who now plays point guard for a professional team in Spain, was 8-for-16 from the field and 6-for-6 from the free-throw line, and also had four assists, three rebounds and no turnovers in 27 minutes. That's a line.

The U.S. won, 85-83, but Jasikevicius was the best player on the floor in a game featuring some of the NBA's biggest stars, such as Kevin Garnett, Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton.

Payton, so renowned as a defender his nickname is "The Glove," couldn't keep Jasikevicius from penetrating into the lane and either shooting or passing to a teammate for an open shot.

"I didn't know much about that guy," Kidd said, "but he played a hell of game."

The one U.S. player who did know about Jasikevicius was Carter, the former North Carolina star who played against Jasikevicius for three years in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"We had some wars back then, and this was another one," Carter said. "My hat's off to him. He played with a ton of heart."

Carter, who led the U.S. with 18 points, laughed and joked with Jasikevicius throughout the game. It was Carolina-Maryland all over again.

"We're good friends," Jasikevicius said.

"I have known Sarunas for a long time, and I really like him and respect the way he plays," Carter said. "But I have to say, I've never seen him play as well as he did tonight."

Although three other players scored in double figures for Lithuania, which will play Australia for the bronze medal tomorrow, Jasikevicius was the go-to guy as Lithuania rallied from 10 points down in the second half and led with 43.4 seconds to play.

"He took what we gave him," Kidd said. `We were so concerned about him driving inside and passing off that we backed off him when he came inside. And he just went to the hole and made the shots."

It was an electric performance on a worldwide stage, but Jasikevicius wasn't taking much solace in it before today's practice. He was still shaking his head at the few missed free throws and turnovers that brought down the Lithuanians.

"Those [U.S.] guys play in the best league, but we have a lot of guys who can play, too," he said. "To come close and not take it all the way is frustrating, but what can you do?"

Jasikevicius spent last summer in College Park, Maryland coach Gary Williams said, taking classes and working toward his degree, which he is on schedule to receive next year. No NBA teams have given him a look, but he will make $1 million in Spain this year, Williams said.

"He's making good money playing basketball," Williams said. "I don't think there's any doubt he can play in the NBA. He just needs the chance. He's just a good basketball player. I think the NBA felt he was too small to play two [shooting] guard and didn't handle the ball well enough to play the point, but he's a basketball player and he's proving it now."

Don Nelson Jr., an NBA assistant who has helped coach the Lithuanians for a decade, said, "Someone might give him a cup of coffee in the NBA now. He has certainly opened some eyes."

Actually, he almost closed the Dream Team's eyes and knocked America's most famous Olympic team out of gold-medal contention, an unthinkable concept when the Games began.

It's almost a surreal concept to anyone who follows Maryland basketball - Sarunas Jasikevicius slam-dunking the Dream Team - but he almost made it a reality.

"He's played in the States, he knows the game," said Lithuania's Darius Songaila, who plays for Wake Forest. "Sarunas played his rear off tonight. He was unbelievable."

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