Promise of potential leads Sedekerskis away from and back to Klaipeda
To encourage the development of more young local talents, the Basketball Champions League requires its teams to register at least 5 Home Grown Players on the game score sheet (if 11 or more players listed, otherwise 4 if roster has 10 or fewer players). Many of these players are considered top level talents in their respective countries and I will be taking a look at some of them over the course of the season.
KLAIPEDA (Lithuania) - There is a lot of familiarity for Tadas Sedekerskis with Neptunas Klaipeda. Not only is the young talent closer to his home and family, but he is playing with some of his best friends in the game - all making his on-loan transition to the Lithuanian club that much easier.
Sedekerskis is playing for Neptunas on loan from Spanish powerhouse Saski Baskonia, and the 21-year-old is thrilled to finally get the chance to show what he can do - also in the Basketball Champions League.
"There are a lot of high-level players (in the BCL), so it's good to compare myself with them," said Sedekerskis, who is averaging 4.0 points and 2.5 rebounds through Neptunas' first two games in the BCL. "I still need to learn many things. Every game you learn something new because you get more experience when you get playing time. So you learn from your mistakes in every game."
Sedekerskis has been on the court for 40 minutes through those two contests - a victory over Happy Casa Brindisi and a loss against JDA Dijon. And it’s exactly that playing time that brought him to Klaipeda after struggling to get onto the court for Baskonia.
"We are basketball players and we want to play. Of course it is important to practice and I had good experience at that level, with good coaches and players of the highest class. But time is passing and I want to get as much practice on the court as possible," Sedekerskis said.
The 6ft 8in (2.04m) small forward still has a long career ahead of himself - not turning 22 until January. But it's been a long time since Sedekerskis has been back home in western Lithuania.
Back in 2013, at 15 years of age, Sedekerskis embarked from Klaipeda on a new life journey, signing with Baskonia. It was clear that his talent and potential were there, playing in all the major prospect showcases like the Jordan Brand Classic, Basketball Without Borders Global Camp and FIBA European U18 All-Star Game at FIBA EuroBasket 2015. He also debuted in the Spanish ACB in 2015 at 17, appearing in three games in the league in 2014-15.
Sedekerskis became a regular part of Baskonia's top team in 2016-17, playing in 24 ACB games - averaging 2.0 points and 1.8 rebounds in 7.5 minutes - and 10 EuroLeague contests - picking up 1.7 points and 0.8 rebounds in 6.0 minutes. While he did not get onto the court that much, he did compete at practice with some of the top players on the continent.
Sedekerskis learned a lot from Georgian international Tornike Shengelia
When asked from which players he learned the most, Sedekerskis said: "There were so many great players, so it is very hard to exclude someone. I think I spent the most time with Tornike Shengelia as we still keep in touch. He always looked after young players and supported them in hard moments and always gives some advice from his side."
But Georgian international Shengelia is just one of many big names from whom Sedekerskis learned during his time with Baskonia.
"In my first year, there were some great players such as (Shane) Larkin, (Andrea) Bargnani, (Adam) Hanga. The next year, players like (Antonio) Granger and (Marcelinho) Huertas. All of them are great professionals and try to help young players all the time. They were never too harsh but when it was necessary, they used some strict words."
Patience: maybe the hardest thing to practice
Sedekerskis regularly went back to Lithuania during the summer to play for his country's youth national teams - in 2013 and 2014 at the FIBA U16 European Championship; at the FIBA U18 European Championship in 2015 and 2016; and at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup in 2017. Those appearances on the international stage - often being one of main leaders on the team - showed Sedekerskis that he had a certain level of talent.
Sure he was learning things from practicing against the best in Europe at Baskonia, but he was unable to implement those things on the court.
"The biggest challenge probably was to have patience, which is not easy when you are young," he admitted. "All you want is to play. You train hard and work hard but still don’t get that chance. It is hard to sit on the bench and watch the game. I don't know, you start losing confidence. That was probably the hardest."
In the 2017 off-season, Sedekerskis was 19 years old and had already shown he could produce in the ACB if given some time, scoring 5 or more points four times, including 12 points against Obradoiro in October 2016. He also grabbed at least 4 rebounds in four games. At the U19 World Cup, he averaged 15.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.6 steals in helping Lithuania to sixth place - losing only to Italy in the Quarter-Finals and versus Germany in the Classification 5-6 game.
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The off-season saw Sedekerskis get loaned from Baskonia to fellow Spanish side Burgos with the hope of building on the confidence of his progress in the ACB the previous season and the motivation from his strong showing at the U19 World Cup.
Things did not go as hoped with Burgos as he played just 81 minutes in eight games, averaging 1.6 points and 2.9 rebounds until late November. Sedekerskis returned to northern Spain and before Christmas he was heading out again on loan - this time back to Lithuania with Nevezis.
Sedekerskis produced in his European games with Nevezis in the FIBA Europe Cup
"I probably learned that not everything happens how you expect it to," he recalled. "I really thought that Burgos would be a good place for me. But promises are not always kept and not everything happens as you wish. So this is a good lesson for me."
Sedekerskis said he believes the solution of going to Kedainiai was a good one.
"I didn't have many teams to choose from. Nevezis was playing in two leagues. I think that for me, as a young player, it was good experience and I think of it as a good part of my career," said Sedekerskis, who averaged 9.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 23 minutes of 17 games in the Lithuanian LKL league.
But he also collected 9.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists in four FIBA Europe Cup games for Nevezis, including double-doubles of 13 points and 14 rebounds and 12 points and 13 rebounds at the end of the club's European season.
"I think it showed that I am a player who can do everything: score and rebound. I think it showed my versatility and that I’m a fighter. I know that (small forwards) have to help big men on the court to rebound," Sedekerskis said.
Back injury hinders return
It was time for Sedekerskis to come back to Baskonia and once again he was ready to enter the season with renewed confidence. But a back injury derailed his 2018-19 season before it could even tip off. Sedekerskis did not make it back onto the court until March and he ended up playing only 64 minutes in nine ACB games - averaging 2.0 points and 1.9 rebounds - and 5 minutes in two EuroLeague contests - picking up 4 points and 2 rebounds.
Once the season had been completed, Sedekerskis started figuring out what the 2019-20 campaign would entail. His potential carried him to Spain when he was 15 and he made his ACB debut when he was 17 years old. And he showed that he can perform at the senior level when given the opportunity. Now he just needed a consistent chance.
It was time once again to leave Baskonia, who re-stocked with high level players. But where to go?
Next step: return home
After some back and forth, Baskonia and Neptunas agreed on a loan of Sedekerskis to the Lithuanian team with the opportunity of playing at a high level in the Basketball Champions League.
"I think the idea came from both sides. Both sides had tried to find an arrangement for a few years but something always went wrong and it didn't work out. This summer I wanted to go to the team where I could get a more important role and Neptunas were creating quite a young team. So I think both sides were interested and we reached an agreement," he said.
In addition, it was a return home for Sedekerskis.
"Klaipeda is like a second home to me. I know the city, the place and this team is one of the best in Lithuania. And they showed that it is a good place for young players."
Not your average home town
Sedekerskis is not actually from Klaipeda. He was born in Nida to a family in love with basketball. Nida is not easy to find on a map, a city of less than 2,000 people located on the strip of land connecting Russia near Kaliningrad Oblast across the Baltic Sea just off the Lithuania coast near Klaipeda in Smiltyne.
The Curonian Spit is only 3.8 kilometres at its widest and stretches over 98 kilometres. It is half Russian and half Lithuanian with Nida located just north of the Russian border and the city being best known for its UNESCO World Heritage Site dunes.
Sedekerskis started playing basketball when he was 6 years old. And while there was not a basketball school in Nida, there was a relatively new and modern gym for about 500 people, where he played pickup games against older men.
Sedekerskis' parents recognized when he was 11 that he was pretty good and decided he should play in Klaipeda, which was about 50 kilometers away. His father would bring him to practice twice a week - and that for about three years before Sedekerskis and his father moved to Klaipeda and Tadas went to school there. Weekends were spent back in Nida with his mother.
Old foes are renewed teammates
The move to Baskonia followed of course, but now Sedekerskis is back in Lithuania.
"I left Lithuania when I was 15 and came back at 21 after six years, so it was probably how it was supposed to happen. It is good, my parents were missing me and I lived there, so there are my friends and family. At this moment, I think it is the best city for me," Sedekerskis said about the move back to Klaipeda.
Not only is he back closer to family, but he also is getting reacquainted with childhood foes who would also become brothers fighting in the Lithuania national team jersey. Neptunas have four other players from his 1998-born generation: Gytis Masiulis, Matas Jogela, Tadas Pazera and Dziugas Slavinskas.
Matas Jogela and Sedekerskis in action at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016
When asked what it's been like playing with and being around those guys, he said: "Now I have gotten used to it, so it's not strange anymore. But when you think about it, it is strange. It seems that just couple of years ago we played in our sport school championship and would have never thought that we will play together."
Sedekerskis and Slavinskas were playing together in Klaipeda, Masiulis was in Kaunas, Pazera in Siauliai and Jogela was first in Taurage and then in Vilnius. All going at it against each other.
"After the (2018-19) season I talked to Dziugas and Gytis that it is possible that I could come to Klaipeda. But it is strange that so many of us from the same generation are on the same team. We could a make a national team," Sedekerskis offers with a laugh.
He was actually national team teammates with all four of them for at least one summer: Jogela at the FIBA U18 European Championship in 2016; Pazera at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017; Slavinskas on both of those teams; and Masiulis on both of those as well as the FIBA U18 European Championship 2015.
Gytis Masiulis and Sedekerskis at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016
"It is always good to play with players that you know - not even talking about that they are all the same age. I have known Gytis since we were like 10, so we know each other very well and we support each other," Sedekerskis said. "We have a very good relationship amongst the young players. I had never thought and could never have dreamt that we would end up playing together. But it's cool."
Family and familiarity are a big part of Tadas Sedekerskis' life right now. And he hopes that those aspects of his time at Neptunas will allow him to take the next steps needed to fulfill the promise of potential which started his journey away from and now back to Lithuania.
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