Kansas and Missouri probably aren’t battling on the hardwood anytime soon, but a personal Border War will break out Wednesday morning at the Olympics.
In a men’s basketball quarterfinal with a medal-round berth on the line, Russia will take on Lithuania, which matches big men Sasha Kaun against Linas Kleiza.
That’s Kaun the former Jayhawk vs. Kleiza the former Tiger.
Kleiza was born in Kaunas, Lithuania, and was one of the nation’s most sought after players when Quin Snyder’s staff signed him out of Montrose Christian High in Maryland for the 2003-04 season.
Kaun was born in Tomsk, Russia, and came to Kansas from Florida Air Academy.
Their college paths intersected in 2005, Kaun’s freshman season and Kleiza’s sophomore _ and last _ year in Columbia.
The teams split. KU won 73-61 in Lawrence as Kleiza had 11 points, four rebounds, three assists and a technical foul from official Curtis Shaw after questioning a foul. Kaun had two points.
Missouri won the regular-season finale, 72-68 and Kleiza was big again with 15 points and 14 rebounds. He made 12 of 18 from the line. Kaun played but didn’t score.
Kleiza led the Tigers in scoring at 16.1 points and 7.6 rebounds as a sophomore. He was honorable mention all-Big 12 and made the all-Big 12 Tournament team after scoring 26 against Nebraska and 33 against Oklahoma. He just finished his sixth NBA season and second with the Raptors.
In Missouri’s media guide that introduced him as a freshman, Kleiza said he hoped one day to win an Olympic gold medal.
Kaun steadily improved during his four years at KU and was a major contributor to Coach Bill Self’s 2008 NCAA championship team. His best moment came in the regional title game victory over Davidson when he made all six field goal attempts for 13 points to go along with six rebounds. Kaun joined teammates Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers on the all-regional team.
In Olympic play, Kleiza is averaging a team-best 15.8 points and 6.2 rebounds. Kaun, who plays professionally for CSKA Moscow, averages 8.0 points and 3.3 boards.
Both were born in what was known as the Soviet Union, and now they carry the flags of separate nations, rivals, even.
Something they knew well from their college days.