How good is that new 3x3 team Utena Uniclub really?
UTENA (Lithuania) – It’s not often that a team bursts on to the 3x3 scene and makes the best players in the world talk about them with such reverence. Utena Uniclub, the new Lithuanian powerhouse, is already making waves on the World Tour.
At the Debrecen Masters, Gintautas Matulis, Darius Tarvydas, Ignas Vaitkus, and Vytautas Šulskis went toe-to-toe with the best 3x3 players in the world and showed just how good they could be.
In the pool stage, after losing a close game to NY Harlem, they defeated fellow Lithuanian team Sakiai Gulbele to advance to the bracket.
From there they beat Amsterdam (18-16) and Riga (21-18) before losing 21-16 to Liman in the final.
"They need a bit of experience and I think they can be one of the top 5 teams for sure. If they want to improve, even more, they have the quality," said Stefan Stojacic of Liman.
They showed that quality at the July Hoptrans 3x3 events in Lithuania, making their 3x3 debut alongside several other basketball players. Utena Uniclub and Sakiai, the 6th ranked team in the FIBA 3x3 rankings went back and forth like Frazier and Ali. Rounds one and two went to Uniclub, with Sakiai winning Stop 3. In the final, Utena came out on top, 21-19 to assert themselves as the new kids on the block.
"Hoptrans really impacted the growth of 3x3 basketball in Lithuania,” said Utena’s Darius Tarvydas. “I hope it’s going to be a regular tournament now in Lithuania and continue to raise the popularity."
While the game was being played, parts of the United States were still in lockdown, including New York, where NY Harlem’s Disco Domo was able to watch the event.
"I was very impressed. We were home watching them while they were getting to it. We know the work that Sakiai has produced over the past year and they beat them a few times, so we were on notice. We knew when they were in our bracket, we had our work cut out for us and they have a lot of talented players,” said Jones.
As they advanced through the bracket, Domo was convinced they would be here to stay. "They beat a lot of tough teams (in Debrecen) that had been on the World Tour for a while. I know they have a great bright future."
So, what makes them so good? According to Mr. Robot, it’s because they are made up of the perfect 3x3 team.
"The size of their guys is perfect for 3x3, all the same height. They can reach everything, they can play everything. If you wanted to take basketball players and put them in 3x3 I would always choose these guys."
Tarvydas agrees completely. "I enjoy playing with those guys. They have perfect personalities and we are all tall, but everyone is different. Everyone brings a different quality to the game. For a great team, you have to have a good understanding of each other and good chemistry. You need a big will because the first 5 minutes and last 5 minutes are totally different."
After three World Tour events, Utena Uniclub is the 9th ranked team in the rankings, despite only playing in one event. The sky is the limit for the Lithuanians who see the 3x3 game continuing to grow in their home country.
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