By Cesare Milanti / info@Eurohoops.net
KAUNAS, Lithuania – It’s time for the EuroLeague Finals, first with the 3rd place game between AS Monaco and FC Barcelona and most importantly with the clash between Olympiacos and Real Madrid. Kaunas is enjoying the best weekend of European basketball, and so are its legendary figures.
Interviewed by Eurohoops while he was attending the ANGT game between the U18 of Zalgiris Kaunas and Petteri Koponen’s Next Generation Select Team, Paulius Jankunas expressed his satisfaction with the Final Four being hosted in his city. “I enjoy it a lot, I’m happy that the Final Four is finally here in Kaunas. The fact that EuroLeague finally made the decision to let us host the Final Four, I think this is a big sign of respect and a big honor for us”, he said.
“Full town of basketball fans, people from different countries who all live the same idea and passion. I’m very happy that when I go for a walk I can see and talk with different people to ask them how they like Kaunas. It’s a big thing for us”, the current assistant of Paulius Motiejunas also commented.
After retiring from basketball at the end of the 2021-22 season, the former power forward stepped up to enter the management of Zalgiris Kaunas, which always relies on a big core of Lithuanian players. This year, for example, players like Edgaras Ulanovas and Arnas Butkevicius probably found the best season of their careers under coach Kazys Maksvytis.
Commenting on what Georgios Bartzokas said about the lack of new domestic and local players coming to the EuroLeague landscape, the 39-year-old agreed. “I think that’s what’s happening because there are teams where there are only one or two local players, very young and not playing at all. I don’t think it’s good, but I’m very happy that in Lithuania there’s a different approach. We have good Lithuanian players, and they are important just like the foreigners. Having good local players is crucial for every team”, Paulius Jankunas commented, following the position of Dzanan Musa and Fabien Causeur.
Talking about how the Lithuanian players excelled at their level this year, the whole Zalgiris organization was extremely satisfied with the team reaching once again EuroLeague Playoffs, ending its European campaign with a 3-0 defeat in the series against Sarunas Jasikevicius’ Barcelona. “The season was amazing, considering that at the beginning of the season, we had a new head coach coming, many new players”, Jankunas said.
Despite losing an important asset in Keenan Evans right at the start of 2023, they still managed to pull it off. “How they fought from day one is amazing because Zalgiris fans come to the arena wanting the players to fight. We’re not a very talented team, we can’t win by talent: we have to fight, and I think the players understood that early in the season, starting to do so”, he added before talking about the newcomers like Polonara and Taylor. “The new guys came and put their impact on the team’s results, helping us as well. The season in Lithuania isn’t over yet, but if we talk about EuroLeague it was amazing because we knew how good the season was last year (he laughs, ed). We made a big step forward”, Paulius Jankunas also commented.
Finally, the former Zalgiris Kaunas captain took some time to talk about the first day of the EuroLeague Final Four, with two huge comebacks. “The semifinals were very intense. Two teams got the lead in the first two quarters, but their opponents came back in the second part. I think Olympiacos just showed how good they can play defense, and we knew that they can be very good on offense. Real Madrid used their experience from previous Final Four and they let more experienced players step up, doing their job”, Jankunas said before commenting on the big final. “It looks like Olympiacos is ready to win, but we are talking about Real Madrid, and those guys know how to play finals, and how to win. I can’t pick one”, he stated.
PHOTO CREDIT: Zalgiris Kaunas