Zygimantas Riauka(Dragons Rhondorf) Is The Double Double Beast With The Special Charm

A few minutes had evaporated since the Dragons Rhondorf pulled out one of the more exciting wins in the last years against the Basketball Lowen where they had to suffer and survive through 8 gut wrenching long seconds which must have felt like an eternity for the Dragon Rhondorf players to secure the hard fought victory. The guests had five chances to win, but came up short as the basketball God closed it´s eyes on them and allowed the home team to win only their fourth game of the season and second at home. 205cm Lithuanian giant Zygimantas Riauka who is 25 years old and is a double double beast and makes doing that this season look as easy as it is Luka Doncic giving NBA fans a new wow effect against every opponent he faces , but could easily pass for an overgrown teenager as his baby face and big compassionate smile makes him seen a lot younger than his true years is sitting next to me in the post game interview and is beaming with joy and one can notice right away that he is loving life at the moment. It isn´t just his pleasant demeanor and positive body language that makes you feel comfortable with him right away, but also the way he conducts himself and his choice of words are quite enticing. After the big win, it seems like he is still trying to catch his breath after being on the court for 27 minutes and putting up 21 points and 17 boards as the last 8 seconds might have been the most difficult for him, but he quickly collects himself and rapidly remembers the last seconds. ““I felt like I touched the ball three times at the end. I´m so happy that the ball didn´t go in. We are so used to have teams score on us at the end, but today the basketball God was on our side”, stressed Zygimantas Riauka. A few days later, he still couldn´t get the last 8 seconds out of his mind. “The last 8 seconds of the game seemed like forever especially with the opportunities they had, but fortunately Alex managed to secure the rebound at the end and I was extremely happy. That game was a great battle for us and mentally I feel our team needed that since we have been battling in a lot of close games but haven’t gotten the chances to close them out hopefully this will turn things around for us”, warned Zygimantas Riauka.  When you hear him speak, he quickly comes over as a guy that anyone would love to be associated with. He could be the big brother for that 10 year old fan on the sideline, be the perfect son in law for the 55 year old woman on the sidelines that is watching her daughter perform the latest cheers during a time out or be that young brother to newly acquired 36 year old Anish Sharda. It didn´t take long for Riauka to find a special place in his heart for his new teammate Anish Sharda. ““Sharda is great. I love this guy. He always gives what the team needs. He takes everything away from his self and gives everything to the team”, added  Zygimantas Riauka. A big strength in his character is how he is there for his teammates on and off the court in good times and bad times. “I feel like my character helps my teammates because it provides them with a guy who trusts them and encourages them even when things aren’t going in the right direction. I try to pick them up and I’m very fortunate to have my teammates do the same for me”, warned Zygimantas Riauka. He is just a guy that you have to love old or young and even has that unique combination look of a Johnny Quest with the blond hair and Super Boy with his physique as his club the Dragons Rhondorf would love for him to continue to post almost super natural stats and save the season somehow. Zygimantas Riauka is the double double beast with that special charm.

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber interviewing Zygimantas Riauka this season after a game in Rhondorf

         Zygimantas Riauka was born on March third, 1993 in Klaipedos, Lithuania and moved to the states when he was 8 years old to Downers Grove, Illinois about a 40 minute car ride away from Chicago. It didn´t take long for him to already taste some future NBA blood when he battled future Wisconsin(NCAA) standout Frank Kaminisky and current Charlotte Hornet big man when he was playing at Benet Academy. The Lithuanian big man chose to play at Wisc.-Parkside (NCAA2) from 2011-2015. He gave the description consistency a new meaning as he put up stats of 11.4ppg, 5.7rpg, 2.1apg, 16.7ppg, 9.3rpg, 3.1apg and 14.5ppg, 7.9rpg, 2.8apg in his last three years. He helped lead his school to the GLVC regular season title in 2013 and 2014. He would face Frank Kaminsky in college again and many other fine players, but he remembers one guy very much with his head coach Luke Reigel as it was one of the best coaches that he ever played for in his basketball career. “Coach Luke Reigel made my game what it is now and made me understand that you can’t just rely on one thing. You have to have multiple options to score instead of just relying on my right hand hook”, stressed Zygimantas Riauka. During his years in school, he also spent the summers playing with the Lithuanian youth national teams and once even faced Germany at the U-20 European championships in 2013 winning 74-62 as he contributed six points, four rebounds and two assists in 25 minutes of work. In that game he played against many talented young Germans like current Alba Berlin player Kenneth Ogbe, but it wasn´t so much him that he remembered but ex Alba Berlin big man Bogdan Radosavljevic.   “I don’t really remember playing against Kenneth, but I do remember they had a very strong and tall center at the time that I had to play against”, added Zygimantas Riauka. He also played against talented German point guard Alexander Blessig who he battled already this season with the Bayer Giants Leverkusen losing and is seeking revenge this weekend.

                The double double beast Zygimantas Riauka began his professional basketball career in 2015 as he suited up for El Olivar Zaragoza (Spain-LEB Silver) playing 26 games averaging 13.0ppg, 7.3rpg, 2.3apg, FGP: 57.5%, 3PT: 37.5%, FT: 79.7%. He scored in double figures  in 21 of 26 games and registered six double doubles. His best personal performance was his 23 point and 16 rebound game in the 92-86 victory against Araberri. Despite his very good stats as a rookie, it wasn´t always an easy experience, but in the end, he was in a place that paid him to play the game he loves. “For me playing in Zaragoza was amazing. It was the first time ever in Spain and I was also on the second team. I became home sick for missing my family and friends a little but for the most part I loved it since I got to finally play basketball and be considered a professional”, stressed Zygimantas Riauka. In his second professional season, he remained in Spain and moved up a league and suited up for Caceres Patrimonio de la Humanidad (Spain-LEB Gold) playing 34 games averaging 4.6ppg, 3.8rpg. He was a level up and played less minutes as his time got shaved down from 29 to 14, but overal he cherished the opportunity to continue to play the game he loved. “Playing in second league Spain was not that different from playing in 3rd league Spain. It’s just I wasn’t given as much minutes and I was brought there to play the 4 position but half way through the year they moved my back to center. I loved the city and the team”, added Zygimantas Riauka. Now with Rhondorf there is young German Alexander Moeller who can learn from Riauka and a few years ago in Spain, the Lithuanian big man was doing the learning. “I had an incredible center at that time there Alexander Marcius or Sandi how we all called him so it was another great experience for me to learn from an older guy and to develop my skills defensively”, stressed Zygimantas Riauka. Last season he left the enjoyable winter of Spain for the cold winter of Denmark and played with Team FOG Naestved (Denmark-Ligaen) playing 30 games averaging 7.0ppg, 5.5rpg, FGP: 54.1%, FT: 72.9%. He scored in double figures in 11 games and had three double doubles. But overall it was an up and down year. He did have some huge personal games like his 23 points and 18 points and 11 rebound games against Randers or his 14 points and 14 rebound game against Stevnsgade. Especially in the playoffs, he was almost totally forgotten as in the last seven games he played only 46 minutes. But instead of sitting at the end of the bench like a spoiled kid, he did what the real teammate is supposed to do and support his team which is another example of why his character is one that any team should die for having. “One thing I learned about last year is just to support your teammates and wait patiently for your chance. It’s not always up to you if you are going to play but when you get the chance go and help the team no matter what role is given to you”, stressed Zygimantas Riauka.

                In his fourth professional season he made the jump to the German Pro B and signed with the Dragons Rhondorf. A big credit for making this successful transaction was head coach Thomas Adelt. After his up and down season in Denmark, he was hungry for a new challenge and he hasn´t disappointed, but taken the league by storm as he belongs to the top players. He remembers what it was like talking to Thomas Adelt and how he convinced him of making the Dragon Dome in Bad Honnef his new home. “After I talked to the coach I was very happy of what he had to say and especially since he watched my games before so he knew what I can give to the team plus that I would be given such great conditions such as a shooting gun and practice time at the gym when needed”, stressed Zygimantas Riauka. Through 16 games he is averaging 17,0ppg, 12,1rpg, 3,1apg, 1,4spg and 1,6bpg. He compares his game to the Lithuanian triple double genius Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets and is a power forward/center that is your classic work horse that won´t back down from anyone and go where it hurts. His biggest strength is his rebounding as he hauled down 22 against the ScanPlus Baskets, 20 rebounds against Wurzburg and last weekend had 9 offensive rebounds in the big win over the Basketball Lowen. He is also a good defensive player as he is always a defensive presence in the paint. At Wisconsin—Parkside he averaged 2,5 blocks per game in his last three seasons. His blocks were down a bit the last years due to being more hesitant of getting fouls, but this season he is back at a good block rate. Despite his monster season he has been content with his development, but is nowhere near the end of his development. “My game has been most inside under the basket this year and it’s great since I’ve been doing that my whole career. Coach has given me a ton of freedom and it’s done wonders for me. And am I happy with my progress this year I would say yes but I have so much more to go I’m nowhere near to what I want to have in my bag. I still have a lot to learn and to improve on”, warned Zygimantas Riauka. He has scored in double figures in all 16 games and registered 10 double doubles. He had some serious monster games against the wiha Panthers with 23 points and 19 boards, 15 points and 17 rebounds against the RheinStars and 21 points and 14 rebounds against Coburg to name just a few. Even a guy like Riauka isn´t sitting back and enjoying the ride, but constantly in the gym continuing to perfect his basketball trade as he continues to climb the basketball ladder. “Currently I’m trying to work much more on pick and roll defense and limiting silly mistakes and fouls that I make on the court. Plus trying to find a perfect balance of when to create for others and when to be more aggressive offensively which has been a key focus game to game”, warned Zygimantas Riauka.  In the last game he came from the bench and took it like a professional. Any other top player most likely would have been annoyed not too mention the NBA diva´s who would have started a war on Twitter, but not him. He took it like a man displaying again that he doesn´t only have charm, but has a top character that is hard to find in today´s professional game where ego´s and crying is as normal as a missed Andre Drummond free throw.  

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber interviewing Zygimantas Riauka after he dropped 21 points and had 17 boards in the win against the Basketball Lowen

            Even if he is having an amazing season, the club Dragons Rhondorf have been struggling this season currently in 11th place with a 4-12 record as they continue to fight to stay in the league. Some of their problems have been the normal team blabla occurrences like their two import players not panning out and departing before the first frost set in in Bad Honnef, or the the usual injuries, or losing some key role players who went to new teams, but then again being able to defend is a thing that any team can do as it starts with effort. The club has difficulty defending the way they should and allow  81,9 points per game which is 24th worst in the league. They have relinquished 80 points or more eight times, but also have had their moments, but still lost games, because they couldn´t muster enough points on offense. A big problem is the help defense, rotations and one on one defense something they haven´t been able to do well for long stretches of games to get into a better position of winning. Another key for being successful would be to get more consistency from the German role players. A vital component for being successful in the Pro B league is to have good production from it´s German players. The Dragons Rhondorf have many German players some better than others, but every guy gives 180% each game no matter how talented or less talented they are. Captain Joe Koschade is the best example as he came from the Regionalliga from Duesseldorf and has probably been the most improved player in the last year and a half and the team´s assist leader even though his biggest strength is his heart and fighting qualities something that most likely has been fueled further by the presence of Zygimantas Riauka.

But there are three Germans who have BBL experience with Alex Moeller, Julian Jasinski and Bo Meister as well as Pro B veteran Yannick Kneesch who have had their moments, but haven´t been consistent enough. The Lithuanian big man knows the worth of his teammates and is always there on and off the court to motivate them. “Our young Germans guys are great and are improving each day It’s great to watch especially in practice You can see the confidence growing. Alex has been getting better each game. His offense on the block has provided us key buckets during games and his jump shot has gotten so much better even on the three unfortunately not many people see how hard he works every day in practice. Julian is just a huge piece we are missing unfortunately he hasn’t been with us due to BBL in the beginning of the season and injuries currently once he is back I feel his athletic ability will allow us to play much bigger and provides us with a huge advantage on the rebound and defense. Bo has been improving and finding what player he is this season when you are young the biggest struggle is consistency and putting in the hours on and off the court but he has done a great job. I love his work ethic he’s usually the first one in the gym and getting up shots and working on his game. Yannick is extremely important for us because of the things he does not only in games but in practices his IG is fantastic. Unfortunately he was facing some medical problems last year and wasn’t able to play but he’s finally worked himself into game shape and has been doing an amazing job especially in practice you can see his athleticism coming back when he’s finishing. I’m sure it won’t be long until we see him not only making 3s but always finishing with dunks”, stressed Zygimantas Riauka. Riauka isn´t the only import player that has shone, but also American Kwan Waller who has been huge at both ends of the court and a bit in the shadow of Riauka. The Lithuanian big man profits from his game as well as he often gets the ball in the post from him and also finds him on the break with his breathtaking outlet pass. “Kwan Waller has been huge for us especially with the scoring and defense he brings in not only in games but in practice as well. Plus he has been great for the younger fellas to help them improve on their defense and ball handling”, warned Zygimantas Riauka.     

The Dragons Rhondorf are now in the home stretch of the season and have six games left. They are in a real battle for the positioning of where they will begin in the playdowns which features the four worst teams with the best two staying in the league. The club has two tough battles against top team Bayer Giants Leverkusen who have a 15-1 record and who they lost to 84-68 at home and play against this weekend on the road and play against up and down 9-7 team ScanPlus Baskets who trounced them 95-74 in their living room. But they have four games against teams that are between six and ten in the standings with Giessen, Munich, Wurzburg and Orange Academy and these are games they really have to focus on winning. They made a huge step last weekend winning the nail bitter against playoff candidate Basketball Lowen and overall have been playing better basketball in the last weeks as they were very close to beating the wiha Baskets, RheinStars and Frankfurt, but just couldn´t hold their nerves in crunch-time and get the wins. Riauka is positive that the win against the Basketball Lowen could turn their season around. “I believe this game was extremely important for us especially with it being so close. We haven’t won many close games and it’s great to see one finally go our way. Plus this win is also great for our fans who have  been with us throughout this whole year and always show us support. Some of the positives I saw was from our players taking on the challenges given to them. I was very proud of how they stepped up especially with David Falkenstein giving us huge points when needed and Alex Moeller starting and Lotola Otshumbe coming in off the bench and giving us great minutes”, warned Zygimantas Riauka. It would be a real basketball tragedy if the Dragons Rhondorf failed to remain in the league after this season, but Riauka will do all in his power for this not happening as his whole presence has been an enrichment similar to top character guy Kameron Taylor last season who like Riauka was one of the top players in the league, but the only difference was that the American celebrated more team success. It isn´t all about him which is the case for many top players no matter what league they play in, but for him he gives credit elsewhere to his success. “This season has been great actually I love all my teammates and coaches. I feel like the success of me this year has a lot to do with that. In previous years the teams I’ve played on have had good chemistry but not like this. I feel the competition in this league is good and it’s a battle every game and you can’t take days off or someone will show you up. Also I really enjoy the way the Dragons have taken care of me this is the first year I have my own car and my own apartment. Plus this is the first year where I am able to go in the gym when I would like and get some shots up on a gun unfortunately I have never had that ability before and I believe it shows this season in my performance on the court and the confidence it has given me”, stressed Zygimantas Riauka. No matter what happens this season, this will most likely be his only season as his stellar stats will get him offers from higher leagues and more money the way it did Kameron Taylor last season, so fans should definitely enjoy the last few months with the amiable big man on and off the court as his big charm and character won´t be forgotten so quickly and neither will his brilliant outlet pass. Riauka has described his outlet pass starting the fast break as a hidden strength in his game prior to the season, but it isn´t a secret anymore as he has displayed it time in and time out this season stifling opponents. Recently his role model Nikola Jokic performed a breathtaking outlet pass hauling down the rebound turning and throwing a full court touch down pass ala Tom Brady style that found athletic Canadian beast Jamaal Murray for the easy basket. This play of course didn´t go unnoticed by the big guy. “That joker pass was amazing but I feel like I make it at least once a practice. I love to have my guard leak out as it creates a perfect fast break opportunity. Hopefully I will be able to make it next game”, smiled Zygimantas Riauka. Even if we don´t see that pass anymore this season, we definitely will see more double doubles and his high class character and charm continuing to make every visit to the Dragon Dome an unforgettable experience for everybody.

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