PRO TEAM: Neptunas Klaipedas
VITALS: 7'2", 260 lbs.
YEAR DRAFTED: 1995 by Seattle (Round 2, Pick 54)
RIGHTS HELD BY: Milwaukee
When it comes to world basketball, Lithuania is consistently in the sport's upper echelon. They rely heavily on hefty centers and long range shooting to do their damage. Some of the time these Lithuanian centers did both the inside and outside work. Zukauskas was not one of those centers. Eurelijus was a bruising rim protector who didn't venture away often from the widening paint of FIBA play (remember this for the video). Like his predecessors Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis and Zydrunas Ilgauskas however, he wore the fabled #11. The number eleven jersey in Lithuanian basketball is the equivalent of Brazilian soccer's number ten. It means you are the top big man on the team and in the country. Zukauskas' jersey is retired by Neptunas just like Ilgauskas' is by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He may have never made an impact in North American basketball like Sabonis or Big Z, or the eventual heir to the 11 throne Jonas Valanciunas (who wore the number on the U19 team), but he was a part of the most successful spell in Lithuanian basketball history.
The Lithuanian Men's National Team has reached the medal stand of major tournaments ten times since 1936 while shuffling between independence and re-confederation with the Soviet Union. Four of those medal wins were during Zukauskas' tenure with the once tie-dye clad squad, including gold at the 2003 FIBA EuroBasket. The big man wasn't only a cog of successful teams on the international stage. His club career was just as decorated. He was a member of four championships with Zalgiris Kaunas, three LKL (Lithuanian Basketball League) titles and the 1999 Euroleague crown. He even capped off that 1999 season with a victory in the LKL Slam Dunk Contest. Yes, that is the second seven feet tall white dunk contest winner here at Draft Rights Retained!
Even with all his European prosperity though, as I stated earlier Zukauskas never made as much as a Summer League cameo in the United States. That is of course if you take away the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Seattle made Big E the 54th overall selection of the 1995 Draft, right before Michael McDonald (not the Doobie Brother sadly). He didn't stay very long in the Emerald City's grasp as he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks at the end of the draft. What was the haul for a 7'2" center in a time of the NBA where centers like Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutombo roamed the lane? Just Eric Snow. Eric freakin' Snow. And Seattle had to throw in another second round pick! Just imagine if Seattle had Easy E to combat with the West's finest big men? Could they have won a title? Porbably not. What if the Bucks had a tower of lane clogging power with Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen scoring in droves? Could they have won a title? Probably not. But at least they could have had the guy who hit the best shot ever (according to this Lithuanian kid's Youtube account) in Lithuania's win over the United States in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Thanks for reading the thirteenth release of Draft Rights Retained right here on Bleeding Your Colors! I hope you enjoyed it and look forward to bringing you more wacky stories of players who the NBA has long since forgotten, but not their draft rights. Stay locked for a new profile until the list is exhausted. For more of me, check out my Twitter @TREVORutley. For less of me, check your computer's flotation ability, preferably in the ocean since it is a nice day out.
Image Credit: Eurelijus Zukauskas (15min.lt)
Video Credit: Youtube (Mantas Dobilas)