On a basketball mission to spot the best talents and lead them to the top
When a young aspiring hoopster, Norvydas Kliucininkas, from the industrial town of Alytus in southern Lithuania saw his basketballer dreams shatter due to a series of pesky and grim injuries on the court, he did not hang his boots on the hook, but instead reshaped heavily the dream. “I’ve obtained license of FIBA basketball agent and founded my own basketball agency, “NK Basketball",” Kliucininkas, now 24, told The Baltic Times. The novice in the highly competitive close-circle of basketball agents is resolved to take the job to new heights – more transparent and human.
Can you talk a little about yourself ? Have you always dreamt of becoming a basketball agent?
Indeed, I am now a licensed FIBA basketball agent and the owner of a basketball agency, “NK Basketball". I also describe myself as a basketball enthusiast and furthermore - a basketball zealot in a tiny country, Lithuania, that is so big on the basketball map. All my life I was playing basketball and I knew that I am going to be a professional basketball player. Never dreamt of becoming a basketball agent though. But, things changed after suffering a lot of injuries. My basketball career was over. Later I started working as a basketball scout and I take pride in the fact that I had an opportunity to bring some good players to Lithuania. I really liked the whole process and I thought I could make a much bigger impact on the game by becoming a basketball agent. So, I took and passed a FIBA basketball agent test in Switzerland and founded my own basketball agency.
Was it easy to come to grips with the fallout from your multiple injuries that left you disabled to professionally compete on the basketball floor?
Frankly, it was probably the hardest time in my life. Not physically but mentally. Never had any other thoughts apart from becoming a basketball player. To tell the truth, I didn't have much interest in any other area besides basketball. It is very difficult when you hinge your entire life on only one thing and that thing goes away. It took me about two years to get over it and move on.
You’ve spent some time scouting young talents. What kind of work did your capacity involve?
It doesn't matter if you are scouting young talents or professional players – what you have to do all the time is watch and analyse a lot of basketball game videos. When scouting young players, you must foresee what is going to happen with them after 3-5 years. I would say that the main thing with the scouting of young players is foreseeing the basketballer’s character. There are a lot of talented young players, but only a good character and work ethic can make him a solid professional player in the future.
To those unfamiliar with professional sports, can you talk a little about what being a basketball agent is all about?
To put it simply, it is all about being a mediator between the players and the teams. Both sides have their own goals, and agents help to achieve that. Each basketball agent must know the market and how it functions very well. It is extremely important to have great communication skills and create good relationships with players and teams.
How many basketball agents are there in Lithuania? Is the community friendly?
At the moment, there are 9 FIBA licensed Lithuanian agents. There are some agents you can trust, but unfortunately, in this business you just can't trust anyone 100 per cent. Everyone minds his own interests.
How are you going to make a splash in the very competitive business?
The main thing that separates me from the other agents is the attitude, I’d say. I never put myself first against a player or a team. I really care about the player, try to communicate a lot, and tend to become a very good friend of the player I represent. I want to show players the right way towards a successful basketball career. I want to motivate them. They can't stop dreaming, reaching and working hard. I want to help them understand that sometimes they must ignore the traction of money and make another decision for their brighter future. As for clubs, they often think that budget is everything. It is not true. I want to help find the right player and not waste money.
I am going to be very active on social media, so I believe people will notice my approach. I believe that my personality, coupled with my honesty will help me pave my way through.
Is there anything you’re not happy with as far as how the network of Lithuania’s basketball agents operates?
I think they are competing too much and not helping each other. They fight a lot for young talents and forget about their real mission - to help players.
What do you believe makes an excellent basketball agent? The size of the commission? The number of top hoopsters in the premier clubs’ line-up?
Every agent comes with his own vision. For me, it's definitely not the size of the commission. I believe that money can't be the main indicator in any area, as well as the number of top players on the best teams. For me, it's all about adjusting to each player and helping him to achieve goals and dreams. If a player wants to play at the top level, and I help him with this, it means I am good at my job.
Can you speak a bit about the nitty gritty – how do you mediate between the clubs and basketballers out there?
Nowadays, the work is being done on the Internet. Each club has its own website. Every player, coach or even team manager is on social media. You can communicate there or through email, phone calls, etc. It is very simple in fact. The main thing is to bring the value. If you have something interesting to offer, you will get your chance.
Are there any deals that you are particularly proud of ?
I have not signed too many deals yet, to be honest. When I was working as a basketball scout, I worked with basketball club Palanga, which plays in the NKL, Lithuania’s second-tier league. I am very proud that I’ve brought two great players for it. The first is Titus Robinson, who helped the club win 3rd place in the NKL. The other player is Johnathan Hudson. I found him playing in the fourth division in Italy. He became a top scorer in the NKL league last season, and in mid-season, he moved to the LKL, Lithuania’s top league. It was a huge step for him to come from Italy to Lithuania’s top league just in one year.
Some club owners I’ve talked to rebuke basketball agents that they mind only their business and disregard the interests of the basketball players, especially young and talented ones? What would be your response?
Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth in this. As I mentioned earlier, agents are fighting too much for young talents. In most cases, young players do not even need an agent, but a bunch of them swarm about the talents, promising them the earth big-name teams, big money, an affluent lifestyle, and so on. It is very hard to resist the lure for a young player. I’d say, eight out of ten agents would send the player to where he will get a better agent fee, ignoring the fact that the club is not the best option for the player. It is very sad, but reality is like this. Not so many agents care about the player's future.
Can the best basketball agents make a lot of money in Lithuania?
I would say yes. In Lithuania, basketball clubs do not have very high budgets compared to other countries; however, the best teams here can pay decent money.
What chances do you believe Lithuania stand in the upcoming European basketball championship in Istanbul?
I believe that the national team will be among the top four teams.
Will basketball remain Lithuania’s “second religion” in years to come? What do you believe needs to be done to bolster the local basketball leagues in terms of organization and management?
It doesn't seem to me that it could change soon - basketball will remain the second religion in Lithuania. I believe that local basketball leagues should provide even more information about the leagues and the players, especially in lower-tier leagues. With more videos out, even more players could be noticed too.
Do you see yourself stepping up the ladder and becoming a basketball club director someday?
The position of basketball club director is probably what I will be aiming for in the future. If I have an opportunity of that kind in the future, I will definitely take it!