Disabato: Lemont’s Juozas Balciunas could face a tough decision
By Pat Disabato firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 802-8837 February 29, 2012 8:56PM
Lemont's Juozas Balciunas (left) may have to make a decision to stay with his high school team or play in an international tournament. | File photo
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Updated: April 2, 2012 9:45AM
There are a few players on area high school basketball teams who are irreplaceable.
By that I mean if their services no longer were available, their team’s success would immeasurably suffer.
Three names instantly come to mind: Tony Hicks, of St. Rita, Jubril Adekoya, of Andrew, and Juozas Balciunas, of Lemont.
I’m pretty confident that St. Rita, with a talented but inexperienced roster, still would remain competitive. No way the Mustangs finish 15-10, but they’re still a .500 squad.
Remove Adekoya, who is as skilled and smart as he is unselfish, and the Thunderbolts (23-2) are a below-.500 squad.
Ditto Lemont without Balciunas. There is nothing he can’t do on the court, and he’s unselfish to boot.
Understand, this isn’t a knock on their supporting cast; just an honest acknowledgement of the skill level Hicks, Adekoya and Balciunas have.
Unfortunately for Lemont, the possibility of forging on in the Class 3A playoffs without their leading scorer and primary ballhandler is a distinct possibility.
The good news?
Balciunas’ absence could be realized if Lemont can get past Providence, which is far from a certainty, on Friday.
Come next week, though, when a potential rematch against Hillcrest in the Rich East Sectional semifinals would take place, Balciunas could be competing internationally for the U19 Lithuanian National Team.
“It’s unusual that an opportunity like this happens during the high school season,” Lemont athletic director John Young said. “We knew the opportunity was there if we were to advance into the sectional.”
If you think for one second Lemont is going to pressure Balciunas into choosing his high school team — you know, finish what you start, kid — you’re sadly mistaken.
Nor should it.
“We’re not going to hold Juozas back from competing in an international tournament if that’s the decision he makes,” Young said. “We’re going to support him 100 percent no matter what his decision is.”
That’s the way the potential dilemma should be handled. Balciunas must weigh his options with family and follow his heart.
If Lemont falls to Providence, it’s a moot point. Balciunas packs his bags and represents Lithuania, the country where he was born, and puts his mad skills on display internationally.
But if the Indians dump Providence, it’s decision time for the 6-foot-1 junior, who transferred from St. Joseph’s over the summer and transformed Lemont from an eight-win team a season ago into a 25-win, conference co-champion powerhouse.
While Lemont figures to return a slew of players next season, led by Balciunas, there are no assurances the Indians will match this season’s success.
The opportunity to play Hillcrest in a sectional semifinal, with a sure to be standing-room only crowd, likely is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
So to could be the chance to represent the country where he was born.
“It’s all men on board for Friday,” Young said. “If we win, coach (Rick) Runaas will prepare accordingly. Juozas has both options available to him. It’s not our decision.”
It’s a tough call.
I feel for the young man.
In truth, it’s an agonizing decision for any teenager.
Someone stands to be disappointed, no matter the path Balciunas chooses.
“The team loves him to death,” Young said. “He’s brought a lot of life to our kids, parents and fans of Lemont. Not many of us can understand the opportunity to play for your country. He tried out before and didn’t make it.
“If we don’t win Friday, it’s an easy decision. Of course, I hope we win Friday. But it’s his decision and we’re here to support him.”