By Cesare Milanti / info@Eurohoops.net
KAUNAS, Lithuania – The day has come, and the Zalgirio Arena is ready to welcome first Olympiacos and AS Monaco, and then FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. Next to the fans of the Final Four teams – analyzed by Sergio Scariolo here – there will be thousands of supporters from Kaunas.
One of the guys who has gotten to know more closely the passion spread by the green heart that beats every time there’s a dribble on a basketball court is surely Achille Polonara, who joined Zalgiris Kaunas mid-way through the season following an underwhelming start with Anadolu Efes.
“Playing here is beautiful, it’s an amazing sensation, and I feel very good. It was not an easy start for me here in Kaunas, because it is the first season in which I change teams in mid-season. But I settled in slowly, and now I feel very comfortable. In addition, there is a great passion for basketball, Zalgiris is a religion in Kaunas: it is really beautiful”, he said in an exclusive interview with Eurohoops.
The commitment by the city of Kaunas and its inhabitants toward Zalgiris can be also seen in how they received the Italian forward following signing the contract mid-way through the season. “Ever since I signed up, I’ve gotten a lot of welcome messages, and that’s when I knew where I was going”, he said before underlining how important his decision was to share the locker rooms with Lithuanians. “Having played with several Lithuanians like Rimantas Kaukenas, the Lavrinovic brothers, Rokas Giedraitis, and Tadas Sedekerskis, I have always talked about Lithuania as a small country where basketball is definitely more than a sport. That’s all for them. I’ve played several times against Lithuania and I’ve always noticed huge fanbases when they play. I knew where I’d end up”, the former Baskonia player commented.
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Losing 3-0 in the EuroLeague Playoffs following an outstanding run to make them, Achille Polonara and Zalgiris can’t play in their home court, occupied by the EuroLeague Final Four in which previews like the party of the season in Zalgirio Arena. “It is a great honor for them to host four of the best teams in Europe. Jasikevicius here in Kaunas is almost a god, so they respect him a lot and they will surely be rooting for him and for Barcelona, which also has Jokubaitis. They’re so happy they’re doing it here, and I think it’s going to be electrifying”, Achille Polonara said.
The 31-year-old went on to give his predictions over the most anticipated weekend of the year. “It will surely be a Final Four with the four teams that most deserved to get to the top. Olympiacos has been upfront since day one; it’s useless to emphasize the greatness and presence at the top of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and Monaco has made a great season with talented players, physicality, and athleticism difficult to stem. They could trip the Greek team right away, who knows”, he added.
As said earlier, Achille Polonara believes one team, in particular, will have the most support out of the four participants. “I think Barcelona will have more fans, but Real Madrid is a super-experienced team. Many players have been there for a lot of time, and its additions have been absolute level. They know how to play these kinds of games but between the two I’d go with Barcelona. Honestly, I expect two very close semis. They will certainly be games where the details make the difference, point to point, and with those who have more experience favored for the last tense minutes of the match”, the Italian forward commented.
After leaving Baskonia, Achille Polonara got stuck in a limbo between Fenerbahce and Efes, without finding environments where he could have shone again. Signing up for Zalgiris Kaunas, he got back joy and satisfaction, but he’s unsure if he will continue with the Lithuanian green-and-white side next year.
“I don’t know yet. I signed for six months from January to June, I’ve been finding myself well and I am still very well. Our goal is to win the Lithuanian championship, and we still have a few games left. My focus is on taking gold, and then we will see. After the end of the LKL, I will have the opportunity to talk to my agent and evaluate what will be the best situation”, he finally said. Eyes on the prize for Achille while the city will enjoy the 2023 EuroLeague Final Four. As he said, Kaunas lives for basketball.
PHOTO CREDIT: Zalgiris Kaunas