Sarunas Jasikevicius was interviewed by Sports.ru Vladimir Spivak and this being Saras, the interview was nothing short of interesting and intriguing.
– Sarunas, you haven’t played for Lithuanian NT for the past two years. What was the main reason behind your return to the team?
Kemzura and I have great relationship from back in the days. We are always in touch, discussing the National Team and he told me he wanted me to return as he needed a player like me. So the main factors are the good relationship with the coach and that the Eurobasket will take place at our home.
– What were you thinking when watching the team in the past two summers?
To be honest I didn’t think about it a lot. In 2009 in Poland it was weird, as the team kept losing all the time. But it happens, we know how hard is to win in our line of work. Last year it was very pleasant to watch as the guys surprised everyone, playing great. I was very happy for Kemzura and our young lads. But this was as weird, because it was unexpected and the guys kept “killing” their opponents.
– Some said that in order for Lithuania to have won the gold at World Champions they needed a world class playmaker. Would you agree?
I don’t think having a world class playmaker would make much of a difference against USA NT. It was just a good timing of many things working out, which is very important in such tournaments. Of course it is a result of hard work, but the results are never guaranteed. But we hope that something similar will happen this year too.
– Do you feel the pressure weighing on the team’s shoulders?
I don’t feel pressure. But I get what the stakes are, what people are expecting of us. Sadly we’ve lost Kleiza and Maciulis, they would help us a great deal. But we have to move forward.
– So it doesn’t even pass from your minds that you could disappoint three million people very much?
We shouldn’t think like that. Some people think like that, but I try not to concentrate on that. We should pressure ourselves everyday in training and then see what comes out of it. I believe that the greatest pressure comes from within.
– Who are the Eurobasket favourites?
There are plenty this year. Spain, France, Turkey, Russia, and Lithuania because we play at home. Serbia is very strong, one of the main favourites in my opinion. I’ve probably forgotten to mention some teams, so those guys will get frustrated and play against me with extra motivation. Around seven teams.
– You’ve practically played in every country where people love basketball. Do people in Lithuanian love it more than any place other?
Yes, I think that’s the case. We don’t even know where the passion for the game comes from. We have a rich basketball tradition and fans are forcing us to move forward. And it’s amazing to be part of this culture.
– Where there incidents where the fans got in the way of a game?
Of course. Games between Panathinaikos and Olympiacos are hardly basketball, it’s a war. You have to put up with everything there: knives, coins, bottles. Coins and lighters are common. It’s very hard in Greece, nothing that I have been through in my life can be compared to that.
In my last season at Panathinaikos we played an away game against Olympiacos and the home fans threw pieces, really big pieces, of concrete against us during warm-up. Then I saw three knives laying on the court. That’s not even funny. Seems that the people in charge are waiting for victims, to do something about the situation. So it gets crazier every year.
– Jonas Valanciunas is just 19 and has played just one (before Russia-Lithuania game) game for the senior NT. Why is he so incredibly popular in Lithuania?
Jonas is a very talented young man. He has already won three major youth tournaments. When you’re young, people support you. We are in the process of integrating a new generation and to have such a leader of said generation is just amazing! We have a lot of talents, but Jonas is also a great guy. He is humble and and listens to everyone. And that’s why he is so special.
– You’ve already displayed a great understanding with him. But who were the most pleasant to play with in your career?
In the National Team there was always a guy I could pass to, starting with Einikis. Even Sabonis, regardless of his poor shape. I was always lucky with my teammates wherever I played. In Maccabi there was Baston and Vujcic, in PAO Batiste. Those players are needed as they make your game better.
– In early 2011 you left Lietuvos Rytas to have greater chances at winning the Euroleague, as you said. Is it still a motivation after winning the Euroleague trophy four times?
Of course. Motivation for me comes in the form of any tournament. To be honest, I wouldn’t be still playing at the age of 35, if I lacked motivation. When the decisive games of the season approach I feel the need to win. When I stop feeling that, or when my body tells me it’s time to stop, I shall stop.
– Which of the four titles was more special?
They were all special, but with Maccabi we played the best basketball, and by the way, Blatt had something to do with it. We were really aggressive in offense and our game was pleasant to watch and we had a great squad.
– Are there any regrets for not sticking in the NBA or is it just another league you’ve played in during your basketball adventures?
I chose the wrong team to play in NBA and that cost me dearly. It’s a whole other world where not everything is up to you. Trades are not up to you. They traded me just because I had the same contract with another player. During the summer leading to my transfer to PAO, we were trying to get me traded all summer long. We failed and it was dangerous to return to Golden State and fight for playing time spending the season warming the bench in the process. So PAO was the best option at the given time.
– What other clubs made you an offer before you joined the Indiana Pacers?
Cleveland and Portland. I think I should’ve chose Portland.
– Are you at least slightly content with your NBA career?
In the first four months I got playing time and was a rotation player, I couldn’t ask for more. I would prefer to play for five more minutes, but at that time it wasn’t important. Problem was that I didn’t enjoy myself. This was a team where players didn’t gel with each other. Plus that I made a mistake by not getting in shape and my performance dropped after the first 50 games. I prepared better for the second season and played during the first three months and then out of nowhere I was traded. When I traveled to Golden State they sent me to see Don Nelson, straight from the airport and the first thing he asked me was “what kind of a player I was”. I thought to myself “Is he for real?”. I tried to prove myself but it was clear I wasn’t in the team’s plans.
– Is NBA level much higher than in Europe?
It’s higher, but not much. To be honest I liked it in the NBA. I like to play and we had 3-4 games per week there. Anyone would prefer playing than training. I liked the traveling and the atmosphere in general, but I didn’t get playing time and it affected me psychologically.
I should’ve gone to a team who is “European players friendly”. I thought I was making the right choice because of my constant contact with Larry Bird and Rick Carlisle, they really wanted to see me in their team. They later apologised but it’s not easy to accept their apologies as they cost me two years of my career.
– Which side are you on, in the dispute that resulted in lockout?
Everything is relative.I don’t understand why the club owners say they are not making profit. I think their business is not doing bad. Although I understand that generating income is harder for the smaller franchises. But from what I understand, the owners now want to take a big chink from the players’ guaranteed contracts. The last time when I was in Tel Aviv I spoke to Anthony Parker, who is a players’ representative and he explained the situation in details and things do seem tough.
I’m not on the players side, although I don’t play in NBA anymore. It would be useful to hear the club owners’ say on this, as well. I read for example about a deal to sell Atlanta for $400 millions. If the teams are not profitable why would anyone buy them? And if after you buy it, you still have have a $20 billion bank balance, how can you complain about it? You know, I hate the business side of basketball, but unfortunately we have to live with it.
– Who is the best playmaker in the World right now?
Deron Williams. I like him the most. He will be playing in Turkey too next season, so we’ll get a chance to watch him.
– What about Derrick Rose?
I like him too, but he doesn’t possess Williams’ shooting, although you can’t argue with an MVP award. I generally don’t associate myself with such guys, because they jump too high and run too fast.
– How about Europeans?
Tony Parker. In Euroleague, Diamantidis. I like people who make an impact in a game in many ways and offer leadership to the team. Diamantidis is definitely a great player and definitely an even greater person. Teodosic? He is OK, but we shouldn’t love Olympiacos guys.
– Yes, there is history between the two of you, where he didn’t behave in a proper manner.
Yes, it’s not really such a big deal. It’s just that when you play against each other so many times in such crazy circumstances, something will eventually happen. Whatever he has done, it was his choice. Maybe that’s his style, but Youtube rarely lies.
– Being a great player in such an age, is it realistic to learn something new?
Of course, and that’s the beauty of our game. Everyday, something new happens. Everyone joke that I learned how to defend when I became 30. So one can develop at any age.
– What do you like the most in basketball?
Locker room. Especially when you’re part of a great squad, as is the case in the National Team. There will be jokes, stories of how we spent last evening, ordinary everyday stories. I will probably miss that the most when I retire. It’s the best place to be in after a win.
– Have you started thinking about what you’ll do after your playing days are over?
To be honest, no. It will be something basketball-related, but I don’t know yet whether I want to be a coach, a scout or something else. But definitely not a reporter. God forbid, definitely not a reporter! I don’t have anything against them, but pleasant news appear only once every ten times.
I especially like to work with children. All the training camps I’ve taken part in I’ve liked very much. And maybe this could lie in my future.