Tuesday, November 13, 2001
[ UH BASKETBALL ]
Somewhere between BayWatch and K-PAX, you'll find Mindaugas Burneika.
Hawaii tri-captain Mindaugas
Burneika has adjusted to life away
from his native Lithuania
By Cindy Luis
Reality has been unreal for the 6-foot-7 forward from Lithuania who came to play basketball in America four years ago.
"Hawaii was so far away from my home," said Burneika, a senior tri-captain for the Hawaii men's basketball team. "We watched American shows like BayWatch. In the movies, everything is much better than real life.
"When I told my friends I had a chance to play in Hawaii, and on a scholarship, it was like a movie."
The script has been pretty good so far.
Burneika played two years at Weatherford (Texas) College, where he was named the conference Player of the Year as a sophomore. The Coyotes finished third nationally and he was named a second-team All-American.
Burneika was a good friend of Nerijus Puida, who was a year ahead of him at Weatherford, the oldest junior college in Texas. It was a logical step to follow his fellow Lithuanian to Hawaii.
"We found him through Nerijus and he's really helped us," Rainbow coach Riley Wallace said. "He works hard, brings a good inside-and-out game, hits the 3s and is very versatile. He can play the 3, 4 or 5.
"We're expecting leadership from him. He's a good young man, a good athlete and a good student."
There's a word in Lithuanian that describes Burneika even further. It's "kuklus," meaning humble. Those who know him would be surprised if he had voted for himself when the team chose captains last Thursday.
It wouldn't have been because he lacked confidence in his leadership abilities. It's just the kind of person he is: willing to praise his teammates and rarely with a harsh word for anyone.
When asked to compare this year's team with last year's one that won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament title, he was hesitant.
"Last year's team was great and it proved it was," he said. "This year, we don't know yet. Everyone's talking 'Sweet 16' (in the NCAA Tournament), but we have to win game after game first.
"We've lost two good players (senior post players Puida and Scott Ostler) from a team that stuck together last year to win. We have a chance to be very good this year but we have lots of things to work on."
Mindaugas worked on his game all summer as a member of the Lithuanian World University Games team that finished fifth in China. He came back in great shape but strained an ankle in early October, missing out on Midnight Ohana.
About ready to come back, Burneika work up one morning with a bug bite on his arm. Doctors still don't know what insect it was, but it kept Burneika out for several weeks when it got reinfected.
"At first it was good to get the rest but then it went on too long," said Burneika.
"He would have been way ahead of everyone but now his conditioning is behind," said Wallace. "But he'll catch up."
Burneika enjoyed playing in China, particularly Beijing, where the country is preparing for the 2008 Olympics. He got plenty of rice there, a food he hasn't acquired a taste for.
But what Burneika misses besides home cooking is snow.
"I miss the cold," he said. "My sister lives in New York and I've enjoyed visiting her during Christmas."
After this season, the liberal studies major would like to play pro basketball in Europe then go into a sports-related career such as coaching. But right now the focus is on his senior year.
"As much as I was happy for myself last year, I was happier for the seniors," Burneika said. "They finished their season pretty good and I'd like that for our seniors this year.
"But there is much work to do. We're missing what we had last year and we're going to lose games. But you have to lose to get what you need."
Ka Leo O Hawaii