Rokas Jokubaitis has recently been to Kaunas, beating his former team Zalgiris and making it with FC Barcelona to the Final Four.
And now, he returns to his home country having his sights on the EuroLeague trophy.
It will not be easy, but Barcelona, after falling short in the previous two Final Fours, want the third time to be a charm and Jokubaitis feels that this time around, Sarunas Jasikevicius’ team is more than ready.
Eurohoops: Kaunas, and many other big things, are coming. How would you say the team is right now, the most important moment of the season?
Rokas Jokubaitis: The team and myself are feeling very good and in good shape. We made it to the Final Four 3-0, which is, compared with last year, a good result for us. But the job is not finished, in general, we are feeling great, good emotions.
EH: As you said, you managed to eliminate Zalgiris and make it to the Final Four the fast way. Did you enjoy these extra resting days that you had?
RJ: Yeah, it’s always nice to have a little rest and not go to game 4/5 and not get more tired physically and mentally. It’s always better to finish the series earlier, for a better recovery and rest some players in the domestic league. I think that we hoped for that result, it’s better for the team and everybody, to get more time to prepare for the final stage.
EH: We are talking about how important was to eliminate Zalgiris 3-0 but every other series was decided on the fifth game. Do you think that given how close the regular season has been, the fact that you managed to make it to the Final Four so ‘easily’ should be celebrated more?
RK: When we finished the series, we had one day to enjoy that victory but we have to forget this. The job is not done. For sure, all other series went to game five and the level of this year’s Euroleague is incredible, but we can’t be happy about it. There is no time to celebrate or feel good about ourselves. We have a trip to Kaunas and we have to forget how or who we beat, it’s a whole new story.
EH: You just mentioned how competitive and amazing this Euroleague has been. Even though you are young, you have been in the league for some years now. Do you have the feeling that this season has been even more competitive and equal?
RJ: One hundred percent I agree with you. This is my fourth season playing in Euroleague. We can see on the standings how competitive this regular season and playoffs were, we could say 100% that the 2022-23 season of the Euroleague has been the most competitive in history. The numbers don’t lie.
EH: Against Zalgiris you had some really good games, averaging 10 points and being vital in some crunch-time moments. But things didn’t go that well for you the whole season, as you had a rough patch that lasted some months. How do you manage, on a mental level, these weeks when everything seems to go wrong?
RJ: To tell the truth, in November and December my shape was really bad. Everybody saw that and I felt it too. It’s not easy to get in shape again, I would love to. One or two bad games, next game you are in a good rhythm… but this game didn’t come for almost two months. I couldn’t reach my potential, what everybody felt I could give and do on the court. It was frustrating, I wanted to help the team more. The coaches and teammates believed in me, I got chances but in most games, I didn’t use them well. These months were very bad but I am happy that right now I’m in the good way again, after New Year everything went up. This was my first situation like this, I didn’t know how to manage everything, to be honest. It’s good for the young players: just keep grinding, keep working. The most important is to believe in yourself and have people around you who believe in you. Step by step, you can come back, there is no secret formula on how to come back, it took longer than expected but I’m happy that everything is good now.
EH: You are arguably on your best moment of the season and is after facing Zalgiris, your former team. Saras joked about getting a lot of calls from friends and family, has your phone been busy these last few days?
RJ: Yes, a lot of messages, some good and most bad (laughs). Nobody from Lituania in the Barça wanted to play against Zalgiris in the playoffs. We didn’t choose them, they didn’t choose us, this is life. In playoffs there is no room for ‘I don’t want to play against that team’, we got Zalgiris and we had to do our job.
EH: This Barça has a strong Lithuanian presence, with you, Saras, and many other members of the coaching staff coming from that country. Do you think that Zalgiris fans will support Barça because of that, even though Barça eliminated their team?
RJ: In the beginning, I thought that it would happen, but something happened with the Zalgiris fans in Barcelona. The club only allowed 150 Zalgiris fans to go to the game and Barça gave back money to Zalgiris fans for the tickets, so they were a little bit mad at Barça as a club. But I hope they do, it will be one of the biggest events in Lithuania’s history, so I hope we can get as much as possible from them.
EH: Your first Euroleague title could arrive in your home country. How much would that mean to you?
RJ: That would be incredible. I can’t imagine what it would feel like. It could be one of the greatest things in my career.