Marcus Foster on returning to Rytas, being better than Zalgiris, and Panathinaikos

2024-01-09T13:50:35+00:00 2024-01-11T15:29:40+00:00.

Cesare Milanti

09/Jan/24 13:50

Coming back to Rytas Vilnius, the 28-year-old American scorer is now eager to get revenge on Peristeri in the Basketball Champions League Play-Ins

By Cesare Milanti /

Before coming back to Rytas on the eve of the Basketball Champions League Play-Ins against Peristeri, the last thing Marcus Foster did in Vilnius was make sure they were not surrender at home in the LKL Finals against Zalgiris Kaunas.

With the green-and-white powerhouse being up 2-1 in the series with the trophy on the line, the American guard stepped up, taking the ball in his hands with nine seconds to go and ending all the way at the basket, scoring in transition for an eruptous victory.

However, Rytas Vilnius couldn’t survive in the Zalgirio Arena for Game 5, where Isaiah Taylor gave Zalgiris the championship. “I feel we were a better team than Zalgiris [Kaunas[. I think we let that slip away and we let some of their key guys get going down the stretch. We were so close”, Marcus Foster opened up to Eurohoops before Game 2 of the Play-Ins against Peristeri.

Despite a Jordanesque return to the Lithuanian capital, the 28-year-old scorer wasn’t enough for the red-and-black team in Game 1 against the Greek side, led by a monstrous double-double performance of 25 points and 15 assists by Joe Ragland. In order to get to the Round of 16, back-to-back wins are now a must.

The current Rytas’ charismatic leader went back to the first game of the best-of-three series in Vilnius. “It was a tough way for us to start the series. I feel we let Peristeri get too comfortable early on, gaining a lot of rhythm. They shot the ball extremely well, shooting 68.0% from three points. It’s hard to beat a team like that. It’s a playoff game, so we still have a chance to extend this series to have a chance to come back to Vilnius”, he commented.


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Un post condiviso da BC RYTAS, Vilnius (@rytasvilnius)

Coming back… home?

With some chips on his shoulders, for the first time in his career, Marcus Foster has decided to come back where he already had some fun. “I’m excited to be on this team, it’s a different type of team than what it was last year. It’s tough coming in at this point right now, with such important games coming up. I’m gonna have to be able to adjust quickly”, he commented about signing back with some goals in mind. “Win the LKL this year and go to the Quarter-Finals or even Final Four in the BCL”, he added.

Especially, coming back to a core of players he already knows [Margiris Normantas, Justin Gorham, Gytis Radzevicius, Lukas Uleckas, Martynas Echodas, and Gytis Masiulis are still on the roster from the 2022-23 season], will help him get adjusted in faster times. However, there’s also somebody who left. Just like him, his backcourt partner Elvar Fridriksson – who spoke to Eurohoops at the beginning of December – left Lithuanian to join another club, but stayed in the Basketball Champions League with PAOK, opening his year’s Regular Season with a historic triple-double.

Their bond went over the floor. “He was one of the guys I was closest with on the team last year. Our games complemented each other. He’s a very smart player and he’s always somebody I’ll always love to play with again. Our families got close while we were here: we still talk to this day about him coming down to the US and us going to Iceland. That’s a friendship bond I’ll have for a very long time”, Marcus Foster touched on the Icelandic playmaker.

Creating a deadly connection on the court, the Foster-Fridriksson combo was hugely loved by the fan base in Vilnius, who created a wild atmosphere for every opponent who was visiting the Lithuanian capital. That’s one of the reasons why the American guard decided to come back, considering how fun was playing in front of such an audience.

The 2022-23 season with Rytas was full of ups with almost no downs. “It feels like every game in the Basketball Champions League at home has been important for us. I think most of our home games are always fun because we’re bringing a big crowd, there’s a lot of energy. Our fans keep us motivated”, he first said before considering regrets.

That do-or-die game against BAXI Manresa still hurts. “We had a chance to advance to the Top 8 last year, we needed to beat them by 13 points. At a certain point in the fourth quarter, we were up by 14 points [86-72 at 5:38 minutes on the clock]. We had that chance, I feel that’s something we let slip away. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come back: I want us to get further than last year”, he said. That day Marcus Foster scored 27 points for the 96-95 victory, but it wasn’t enough.

One common factor between these two back-to-back experiences is the head coach Giedrius Zibenas. They share worldwide basketball knowledge, having touched on very different places. The Creighton Bluejays product started his overseas career in South Korea before playing in Lebanon, Israel [with Hapoel Holon], Greece [with Panathinaikos and Promitheas], Turkey [with Turk Telekom Ankara], G-League [with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers], Lithuania, and China [with Shandong Hi-Speed Kirin].

The current Lithuanian national team’s assistant, instead, worked in Poland, Iran, Denmark, Estonia, and Indonesia before coming back home. “We’ve both been around all kinds of different basketball, which helps him as a coach and me as a player, understand the different styles of the game we’ve both seen”, Marcus Foster first commented about his head coach.

“He’s one of my favorite coaches I played for because he has an open mind. He’s able to take information from me, and he’s able to help me bring my level of play up. He’s an honest and layback person: when you’re wrong, he’s gonna let you know you’re wrong. When you’re doing good, he’s gonna keep encouraging you. It’s hard to find a coach like that, in any type of level of play. He has all the intangibles that you’d like a coach you play to have”, he added about Giedrius Zibenas.

Is there a future in the EuroLeague for Mfiondu Kabengele?

Marcus Foster is now an established figure in the Basketball Champions League, but he was also close to getting a bigger role in the EuroLeague in the past. Joining Panathinaikos in the summer of 2020, he had 24 points against Barcelona in only his 4th appearance in the competition, but things ultimately didn’t work out. From that experience, however, he still has some friends.

One of them is Dinos Mitoglou, who is now back at OAKA. “We always talked about having a deadly one-two punch in the P&R; I would come off with my speed downhill, making tough to guard me with double teaming, he would be open for three, and he would hit it. He was somebody I always knew would have a great career in the EuroLeague: he’s tall, athletic, he can shoot the ball well. It’s good to see him back playing, especially back in Panathinaikos”, he commented on the Greek forward.

Another player who signed back with the Greens is Ioannis Papapetrou, who has been dealing with some injuries recently. “I always had nothing but great things to say about him. He’s one of the best captains I’ve played for, he was always encouraging me, making sure my mind was right, and I was staying focused”, he said before switching to another Panathinaikos teammate. “[Georgios] Papagiannis was one of the first seven-footers I played with that could almost essentially do everything: he can shoot the ball well, he’s playing defense, guard the P&R, you could switch with him a little bit”, he added.

Generally speaking, Marcus Foster is happy to have had that experience in Athens. “It was fun for me being on that team. It was tough because it was the first year Panathinaikos was coming off a lower budget, and we didn’t have a lot of resources. But I always think that was a great start for me, especially since it was my second year in Europe”, he commented. After that, a part of the season with Turk Telekom followed before going back to the States for a G-League opportunity.

Winning it all with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, he shared the court with the newest Reyer Venice player Mfiondu Kabengele, who started the season dominating in the Basketball Champions League with AEK. “He could be a great role player in the NBA, so EuroLeague is something I can definitely see it happening. He could star in a role there because he has high energy. Fans are gonna love him for the effort he brings, his defense is well-known. You’re gonna struggle to score against him, and the way he runs the floor helps not just him scoring, but also others get open. He shoots the three very well. I definitely see him having a good career in the EuroLeague, he’s right on that bubble of making it. You’ll see him play at a very high level in the EuroLeague”, he said about him.

His former Rio Grande Valley Vipers teammate is not the only one he sees potentially in the EuroLeague. “Another guy I see there is Justin Gorham. I know he had some EuroLeague interests throughout the season, some teams wanted him. He has all the skills to be a role player like Alpha Diallo, he could play the 3/4, he can stretch the floor, shoot the ball, and put it on the ground”, he said about his teammate.

“The best thing about him is his energy: offensive rebounds, big shots from the corner, not gonna be a liability on the defensive end. I see him get a chance to make it to the EuroLeague. His mindset is not about himself, it’s about how he can help the team. He came in when we played Manersa, fitting in with us immediately and he adjusted to see what teams needed. He knew he needed to be that energy guy for us, and he just kept getting better and better”, he then concluded about Justin Gorham.

PHOTO CREDIT: Basketball Champions League

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