Manhattan College’s Rokas Jocys rose up over Joshua Reaves of Mount St. Mary’s with his hopes clinging to every stage in the progression of his release. The rest of his thoughts may have gone blank as he watched the ball go through the net and then the rush of his teammates to celebrate him.
That is a glimpse of the scene that went down last Friday night at Draddy Gymnasium when Jocys’ three from the corner with five seconds left in overtime finally buried Mount St. Mary’s, 75-74. The clutch, high-arching shot was the shot of the year so far for a Manhattan team that initially led by 20 points before the Mountaineers stormed back to force overtime.
The shot heard around Riverdale was a testament to a belief in Jocys’ game, which starts with Manhattan head coach John Gallagher and his staff.
“Coach puts trust in me and I just do my job,” Jocys told reporters after the game.
Rokas is well-acquainted with playing in big games on big stages. The native of Palanga, Lithuania, comes from a family rich in basketball tradition and steeped in the sports longstanding influence on the first country to gain independence during the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
His sister, Juste Jocyte, plays for LDLC ASVEL Féminin in France’s top league. Jocyte, only 18, was recruited to play there by Tony Parker, the former NBA star-turned-majority owner of the club. Jocyte is something of a sporting hero back in Lithuania who gained the attention of many in the global basketball community when she appeared with the Lithuanian senior national team at only 13 years old.
By the time she turned 14, Jocyte made history as the youngest player to appear in EuroLeague competition. If things bend right, Jocyte can end up becoming a WNBA draft pick when becomes eligible in 2027.
Rokas’ father, Alvydas Jocys, was a prospect who rose up through the ranks of a domestic club in Lithuania called Olimpas Plunge. Like his son, he too journeyed to America for basketball and had stints playing for Mid-Plains Community College and later for Bellevue University in Nebraska. Alvydas’ brother, Evaldas, played at Division I East Carolina University in the late 1990s.
Before arriving in Riverdale, Jocys suited up for professional teams in Lithuania, Italy, and Czech Republic. He also benefited from the exposure of playing for the Lithuanian national youth teams, including the U-18 team who competed in the 2022 FIBA European Championships.
At 19, Jocys is a seasoned freshman compared to most and has a skillset that seems to be on par with his advanced hoops experiences.
Gallagher is still working on finding him more minutes in his system, which emphasizes shot selection on offense and features a mix of zone formations on defense.
“He has to play 22-25 (minutes),” Gallagher said about Jocys, who averages 15 minutes per game. “He’s elite at a lot of things.”
Like every new player, there is a learning curve to overcome. Gallagher wants Jocys to continue to climb that curve and accepts the responsibility of teaching him along the way.
“We have to watch a lot of film,” Gallagher said about his plans for Jocys and the other young players.
After starting point guard Brett Rumpel was lost to a season-ending ACL injury, Gallagher publicly issued a challenge to Jocys to step up in Rumpel’s absence.
At the time, it revealed a lot about Gallagher’s expectations for Jocys, and he has responded by revealing a lot about his game.
In the three games since Rumpel’s absence, Jocys has shot 5 for 8 from three-point range to increase his average to 46 percent on the season. In two of the games, Jocys recorded two assists, showing his versatility as a scorer and playmaker.
“Rokas and Briggs (McClain) are going to have to play major minutes,” Gallagher, a former coach at the University of Hartford, said after Manhattan played UConn in Hartford on Black Friday. “We will probably look like the old school Hartford teams from the 3-point line.”