Most Pirate fans will remember Seton Hall alumnus Rimas Kaukėnas from the indelible mark he helped leave on the Men's Basketball program in March of 2000.
Most Pirate fans will remember Seton Hall alumnus Rimas Kaukėnas from the indelible mark he helped leave on the Men's Basketball program in March of 2000. Since then, he has had a successful career both on and off the hardwood. Kaukėnas was part of the senior men's Lithuanian national basketball team (EuroBasket) in 2001, 2007 and 2011 where he won the bronze medal. He also played in the last two Summer Olympics (2008 & 2012) as an integral part of the Lithuanian team while also playing professionally in Kaunas, Lithuania for BC Zalgiris. This weekend I caught up with the sharpshooter for an exclusive Q&A:
Congratulations on a tremendous showing in this years 2012 London Olympics. Lithuania gave the US Men's team all they could handle and also lost a nail-biter to Russia; a game which saw you pour in 19 points. What have your Olympic experiences meant to you?
First of all, I felt really proud to represent my country in these Olympic games. I've played a lot for our National team and feel tremendously proud to be able to participate. Lithuania is really proud of its basketball and always strives to compete. We really wanted to win a medal, but our so-so performance in the quarterfinals against Russia took away our hope in getting one. In any case, I was fortunate enough to help the team in my second Olympic games since I tore my ACL in December for the second time. I had to prove to everybody, and especially myself, that I'd be able to come back and again be able to play at the highest level. In addition, to be part of the Olympics is a great chance to be among the best athletes in the world - it's an incredible feeling.
Do you still keep an eye on the Pirates?
Yes, I really do! My friends from Seton Hall and I follow both basketball and soccer. We constantly cheer, root for and discuss both those teams ever since the year I graduated.
Your former back-court mate, Shaheen Halloway, is the Associate Head Coach for the Pirates. Do you keep in touch with him or any of the other guys from the 2000 Sweet-Sixteen team?
Yes, I'm still in touch with some of the guys, but not as much as I'd like. Everyone has a busy life to keep up with, which is a good thing. I'm able to catch some info about them when I can. I still speak with Tommy Amaker, Levell Sanders and actually got a chance to play against Darius Lane in Belgium and Shaheen in Isreal. That was a really cool experience and of course it was great to see them.
To date, what has been your greatest achievement on the basketball court?
There have been a few memorable moments such as winning 5 Italian Championships, being in the Final 4 of Euroleague, winning the Bronze medal in the European Championship and of course, playing in two Olympic games representing my country.
You've done some tremendous charity work, raising money and awareness for children in your native Lithuania with life threatening medical conditions. Can you tell me a little more about this great organization?
Well, like you said, our charity fund specializes in helping children with serious and life threatening medical conditions. We try to help them in any way possible, whether it's bringing them some smiles, medication, medical equipment or anything else that could be helpful or make them happy and possibly help them forget the pain they are going through for even a short while. I'm very proud of what we do as a group of volunteers, but I have to say, it's still not enough. The health system in Lithuania is nowhere close to the medical care provided in the US. In terms of medicine, there is a shortage of just about everything, especially in the field of oncology. Our goal within the next few years is to raise enough money to build a mobile medical prevention diagnostic center - on a truck - so we can go to schools and villages and provide people with the necessary tests and exams to help prevent children from going through the complicated stages of cancer. But, nothing will just appear out of nothing. We need to work hard to make things happen.
One of the ways we raise money is by selling jerseys of famous soccer and basketball players thanks to teams like Real Madrid and Siena Montepaschi. We also released a children's book so we can raise money and awareness for this cause that I believe so deeply in.
You can visit us on Facebook at: Rimantas Kaukenas Charity-Group
Or, visit our site:
Finally, what was your favorite moment as a Pirate?
Oh come on man, beating Temple in overtime! Actually, it was just the entire NCAA Tournament experience in 2000 when this great group of guys stormed into the Sweet-Sixteen. That was a lot of fun and I can't wait to see the Pirates get deep into the Tournament again - and soon.
Many thanks to Rimas for being so gracious with his time in this interview. I feel fairly comfortable speaking for the entire Seton Hall community when I say that Rimas Kaukėnas continues to make us proud on, but more importantly off, the court.
HAZARD ZET FORWARD!