By Dylan Tehada
UPB’s very own Director of Operations, Rūta Savickaitė, is currently with the Lithuanian U20 Women’s Basketball team as an Assistant Coach. After working mostly in player development in the United States since graduating from Wichita State in 2019, Savickaitė returns to Lithuania to coach the national team and prepare them for the European FIBA Tournament that kicks off on July 29th.
As an assistant coach on the offensive side of the ball, Savickaitė’s main task is to review the offensive plays and make sure the players know them all. Savickaitė and the Lithuanian women’s team have been preparing for the tournament for the past few weeks and have been focusing on developing team chemistry through various film sessions, skills training, and strength conditioning.
Back in March of this year, Savickaitė got a call from a coach on the team who she attended high school with to join the coaching staff for the upcoming summer. After meeting with the head coach and reviewing her coaching and playing experience, Savickaitė received an offer to join the team as an assistant coach and accepted the position. This was a full circle moment for Savickaitė as she herself played once for the under-16 women’s team, twice for the under-18 women's team, and once for the under-20 women’s team, which she is now coaching today.
Although Savickaitė has focused more on individual player development recently, Savickaitė has experience drawing up plays from her years as a Graduate Assistant at Wichita State and is currently embracing the challenge of this coaching role. She mentioned that another challenge is transitioning from a player’s coach to a team coach and focusing on achieving collective goals as opposed to individual ones, which she is accustomed to in her role as a player development coach at UPB. While transitioning into becoming a team coach has presented its challenges, Savickaitė has embraced the competitiveness and camaraderie of the team the most during her time as assistant coach.
“I do enjoy [being a team coach] a lot too because there is a lot of competitiveness. Working on one on one is fun, but [I] don't really see their work come to fruition. But here, [the players] work on things in practice and I'll be able to see that in game,” Savickaitė said.
Even though her main role during practice is to review the plays and coach the team collectively, Savickaitė has utilized the lessons she has learned as a player development coach at UPB to mentor the girls on the team individually outside of practice.
“During practices, we're learning new plays, new defenses, and we just practice executing. So there's not a lot of time for shots, ball handling, any type of skill, so when I work before and after practices with the girls I definitely take everything that I learned from UPB into those workouts,” Savickaitė said.
In addition to her experience as a player on the Lithuanian national team, Savickaitė also brings a unique perspective of playing basketball in the United States as well. Therefore, Savickaitė brings a great deal of insight to the differences between basketball internationally and playing ball in the U.S at a high level. The main difference between basketball in the U.S. and in Europe is the varying involvement playing for club teams. In the U.S, there is a mix of playing sports through school and also club ball such as AAU, but in Europe Savickaitė recounts that club teams and basketball academies are the only option for playing basketball at a young age. This is important to her role as a coach because the girls on the national team are all coming from different basketball academies or are even playing ball in the United States, so it is important to use the time in preparation for the tournament to get everyone on the same page and develop chemistry.
Savickaitė also brings forth a lot of insight and perspective for girls internationally trying to play in the states at the collegiate level and perhaps beyond. Since college scouts are indeed more scarce in Europe, Savickaitė advises young girls that are passionate about the game to consider playing ball in the U.S at a young age either for an AAU team or for a high school team.
“If you're not a top five player in Europe, it's harder to get recruited by college coaches in America, even smaller schools. Especially because some of them don't even recruit overseas… I would definitely recommend going to the states and maybe play in one or two AAU tournaments, [or] play some high school ball and stuff like that just because it offers more exposure to college coaches and recruiters,” Savickaitė said.
During her time as an assistant coach, Savickaitė is focusing on providing the best experience possible. She seeks to use her experience playing for the Lithuanian national team and her desire to help players get better to not only benefit the team as a collective unit, but also to instill dedication to the game of basketball for each of the players individually.
“My goal this summer is to make sure that these girls have the best experience. While we are playing and while we're in this tournament… [I want] to make sure that I can help them grow, develop and have the best experience that they can have this summer,” Savickaitė said.
Savickaitė and the Lithuanian under-20 team have a little under a month to prepare for the tournament which begins on July 29th. Now that the team has a full roster, they can focus on building out their playbook and getting the new players up to speed. We wish Ruta and her team the best of luck in the upcoming FIBA tournament and we are excited to see how they play throughout the summer.