Ex-Terps guard Jasikevicius set to finally get his shot at NBA

Agent says European star to sign 3-year Pacers deal

Pro Basketball

July 26, 2005|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Former Maryland guard Sarunas Jasikevicius, a collegiate role player who became a pro star in Europe, has agreed to a three-year contract with the Indiana Pacers, according to his agent.

The deal is reportedly worth $12 million for Jasikevicius, 29, who has won three consecutive Euroleague championships, including the past two with Maccabi Tel Aviv, and earned Most Valuable Player honors during this year's finals.

He's probably best known, however, for his performance during the 2004 Olympics in Athens, scoring 28 points and making three key three-pointers down the stretch in a 94-90 upset of the United States.

Agent Doug Neustadt said Jasikevicius selected the Pacers over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Utah Jazz. He can't sign until later this week, when the NBA's collective bargaining agreement is completed.

Going to Cleveland would have reunited Jasikevicius with fellow Lithuanians Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Martynas Andriuskevicius. Jasikevicius was the best man at Ilgauskas' wedding last year.

"It was an extremely tough decision and one he labored over for several days," Neustadt said. "He saw Cleveland as an up-and-coming team and it would have been great to play with `Z' [Ilgauskas]."

But the Pacers had been the most persistent suitor of the 6-foot-4, 193-pound guard. Team president Larry Bird made several visits to Europe to scout and meet with him, which made an impression.

"Anytime Larry Bird's interested in a player, it has to carry some weight," Neustadt told the Indianapolis Star earlier this month. "Sarunas is very pleased that Larry likes him as a player."

Another motivation for choosing Indiana is the opportunity to go far in the NBA playoffs.

The Pacers went 44-38 this past season and reached the Eastern Conference semifinals, despite getting only a combined 51 regular-season games out of their best players, Ron Artest and Jermaine O'Neal.

"It was a huge factor," Neustadt said. "He was really looking for a chance to compete in the playoffs, and he sees Indiana as that team."

The idea of Jasikevicius being on the verge of making an impact in the NBA would have been nearly unthinkable in 1998, when he finished a four-year career in College Park with 929 points - mainly as a three-point shooter - averaging 12.4 points in his final season.

With little interest from the NBA at the time, Jasikevicius began his pro career with teams in Lithuania and Slovenia, developing his ball-handling skills to the point where he could play point guard.

Eventually, he graduated to top-shelf European clubs Barcelona and Maccabi Tel Aviv, teams he has played for since 2000. This year, he averaged 15.7 points and 4.9 assists for Tel Aviv.

"I'm obviously very happy for Sarunas," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "He worked very hard to achieve what he's achieved, beginning with learning the English language when he first came to the U.S. ...

"He improved at Maryland and continued to get better after he left. I think it's always been a dream of his to get to the NBA."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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