Arturas Gudaitis on Zenit, time in Milan, NBA agenda and the special place that is OAKA

Lithuanian big Arturas Gudaitis joins TalkBasket to talk about team Zenit, stint with Armani Milano, Panathinaikos' fans and shaping up for the NBA

Arturas Gudaitis during the Euroleague match between ASVEL and Zenit St Petersburg at The Astroballe on November 13, 2020 in Villeurbanne, France. (Photo by Gerard Jullien/Icon Sport via Getty Images)

Arturas Gudaitis hasn’t been much himself lately.

His performances with his new club, Zenit Saint Petersburg, have been solid albeit unimpressive. 8.4 points and 3.6 rebounds over 14 games pale in comparison with the numbers he was used to posting while in Lombardy.

A torn ACL vanquished the Lithuanian big’s brilliant 2018-19 campaign with Armani Milan, in addition to putting his plans on becoming an NBA player to a halt. Gudaitis, a second-round pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2015, was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2018, the franchise that still holds his NBA rights.

Whether he gets a call-up or not remains to be seen, mostly because what matters at this points is for him to become the dominant center EuroLeague was witnessing two years ago: 12.5 points, 7.5 rebounds on 64% two-point and 80.5% free-throw shooting rendered him a sight to behold.

The now 27-year-old from Klaipeda has joined the ranks of an ambitious Russian side, whose roster and balance have little to do with last season. Zenit are 10-5 and, for the time being, they loom as one of the favourites for the EuroLeague playoffs.

A few hours before his team, coached by the celebrated Catalan coach Xavi Pascual, squares off with Greek team Panathinaikos OPAP in Athens, Arturas Gudaitis expressed his views on the game, the season, his new as well as his former team and his NBA aspirations which are largely dependent upon him becoming a better version of himself.

Moreover, as a player who feeds off the crowd’s energy, he repeatedly uttered his desire to have the fans back in the gyms all around Europe – and especially at the OAKA arena.

“The situation is difficult everywhere in the world. Some people get sick, some stores are open, others remain closed. The most difficult part is playing without fans. For me, as a basketball player, that’s very important. Other than that, there are some restrictions regarding family members. Everything is different, but we need to do our job to the best of our abilities”, Gudaitis told TalkBasket.net over the phone before stepping on the plane that carried Zenit to Athens.

Photo Source: EuroLeague

Q: How has the season been for you?

A: With up and downs that I don’t like because normally I’m a player who is consistent. But it’s not a normal situation since I missed the team’s preparation because of a hand injury. I’m trying to do my best to get back in shape and play consistently for the team. I believe that I can add some things in order for us to be much better.

Q: Overall, to what extent are you content with the team’s progress during the season?

A: It’s very early to say anything. We definitely had a good start in the season and our philosophy is to not look back on what we did yesterday, but on what we can do tomorrow. Of course, we’re playing smart basketball and I like what we are doing but we need to continue in the same vein.

Q: It’s somewhat ironic, but your last game in Athens against Panathinaikos was in December 2018, when Giorgos Vovoras had taken over from Xavi Pascual. You were playing with Armani Milan at the time. Now, Vovoras is out and Pascual is coaching your team, Zenit.

A: (laughs) Every time I come to play to OAKA against Panathinaikos, it’s their first game after changing their coach. Yes, I remember that game. I remember that we won.

Q: Ahead of the upcoming game, which are your thoughts?

A: It’s going to be a tough game because their players will be very motivated to show their character after the change of coach. I think they will play hard in this game and I’m really looking forward to competing. Every time in OAKA is special, even without fans. It’s a historical place and it’s nice to play there. Fans make the experience, but when I was young I used to watch Panathinaikos’ games and how they played with Saras, Batiste and Diamantidis. When you are growing up, watching this kind of basketball with such amazing fans, is something that stays inside your head.

Q: You said that Xavi Pascual was the main reason why you signed with Zenit. How is it working with him?

A: I’m really learning a lot from him every day. He’s a very tactical coach. Every day we learn something new and we feel that we’re growing as players. I know that I’m not giving my best for the team, but I am certain that I will in the future, game by game.

Q: You’re about to face several ex-teammates of yours at Armani that are now playing for Panathinaikos: Nemanja Nedovic, Shelvin Mack, Aaron White were with you in Milan last year. What about those guys?

A: With Nemanja we are really good friends and we are still talking. Shelvin is a great guy too.

Q: You had a guaranteed contract with Milan for another season, but you didn’t stay there. Why?

A: I don’t want to talk about it so much. The coach and the organization of Zenit want me here, I accepted their offer and I’ll take that.

Arturas Gudaitis makes a slam dunk during a game between EA7 Emporio Armani Milano vs Germani Basket Brescia at Mediolanum Forum in Assago, Milan, Italy on 26 December 2017. (Photo by Roberto Finizio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Q: How was your experience with Milan, at least before you got injured?

A: I gave them everything that I got; all my passion and love. I love the place and the fans; the organization is amazing. We have been on good terms until now and I’m really thankful for the opportunity, but now we’ve taken separate paths.

Q: Two years ago, you told me that the NBA is your dream. How is the situation right now?

A: Honestly, I’m not thinking about it right now because I need to concentrate on my current team, Zenit, and keep playing well. I must deserve something to go there. So, for now, I want to show better basketball from my side.

Q: Before getting injured in 2019, you had been in touch with Cavs GM, Koby Altman. Did you have any discussions recently?

A: We were talking back then and I was really close to signing with the team. If it hadn’t been for my injury, I would have gone to Cleveland that summer; that’s it. But injury happened and my plans were disrupted.

Q: How easy is it to adjust to not having fans and to getting tested for COVID every once in a while?

A: It’s different without fans because home-court advantage is not an issue; you can win on any court. We are still playing basketball, but having fans back in the arenas will add much more fun.