There had always been a certain kind of mystique behind Linas Kleiza as he had left Lithuania in his teens to play his basketball on the other side of the Pond.
Not many people knew who he was as a player and could only create an idea seeing him play for the National Team.
This year was a bit different – Kleiza decided to leave the NBA behind him and continue his career in Greece with Olympiacos Piraeus.
Though the initial switch to European basketball was because of the money, Kleiza discovered himself as a true leader and a player, who the team could rely on in times of hardship.
Linas played a crucial role in the march of Olympiacos to the Euroleague final, where the club lost to Spanish powerhouse Barcelona.
As well as outshining players such as Josh Childress, Milos Teodosic or Theo Papaloukas, Kleiza also received the Alphonso Ford Trophy, awarded to the Europe’s elite competition’s top-scorer and he became the first Lithuanian ever to do be handed the accolade.
However, despite shining at club level, Kleiza is still to become the leader of the national team.
There are no doubts that he is the most skilful player on the roster, but he will now have to prove that on the court.
Linas mind-set hasn’t always been to be the greatest and as much as people love him as a player for his game, he does have an edgy character and sometimes has had the wrong attitude when it comes to effort – particularly in Eurobasket 2009.
One thing that could have got in the way and limited Kleiza’s impact on the Lithuanian National Team is his position.
Despite a powerful build and a huge frame, the former Denver Nugget spent most of his playing time as a small forward in the National Team.
It was probably a mistake on behalf of former coach Ramunas Butautas as Kleiza has really blossomed as a power forward with Olympiacos.
His body and strength are best suited to play at the four on the international stage, whereas in the NBA he is most effective when playing as a small forward.
Linas Kleiza will have to take the matters into his own hands this time after failing to do so last time round and letting down the whole country of Lithuania.
A season with Olympiacos Piraeus in Greece might have helped the former Denver Nugget adapt to European basketball, but the key here might be the fact that Kleiza really discovered himself at the power forward position.
Former team Lithuania coach Ramunas Butautas usually played Linas at the three, where he didn’t feel that comfortable with his huge frame and massive strength by European standards.