heinnews’s David Hein was at the U20 European Championship in Greece and caught up with Lithuanian big man Donatas Motiejunas, who is projected as the number three pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. They discussed the Lithuanian U20 team (which finished fifth); playing at the U19 World Championship in New Zealand and then in Greece; his disappointing play at the U20s, the 2010 NBA Draft, his weaknesses in his game, his long and short term goals, and not playing for the U20 team next summer.
heinnews: Talk a bit first about the team’s big goal coming into this tournament.
Motiejunas: I think how we will be first. If not us, then somebody else. Maybe Greece or another team. There are a lot of very good teams here. And I think the winner will be the team who is really like a team, for sure. Like a fist, five players, one team. Whoever has five players playing together and are like a fist with all 12 players. That’s the main thing in the national team, not being selfish.
heinnews: Lithuania have a quarter-final date with Italy. Every game they have had was a real fight. What are your thoughts on Italy?
Motiejunas: Right now all the teams want to win. It will be tough with the pressure. It’s complicated for all the teams. It’s just one game and in one game you can choose if you will be playing for the eighth position or in the semi-finals. That means a lot, for all the eight teams. So I think it will be a really good, hard game.
(Lithuania would eventually lose in the final seconds, 69-68, blowing a 14-point lead coming into the fourth quarter).
heinnews: You came to this tournament basically directly from New Zealand, where you played pretty well individually at the U19 World Championship even though the team did not get the result it wanted (ninth place). Talk a bit about that experience in New Zealand?
Motiejunas: I played about six or seven games. It was tough. I was in Lithuania for maybe two days and then came here and played. It’s really, really exhausting for me – going straight to this island. It was 10 degrees in New Zealand and it was cold. I was surprised that there was World Championship and here is European Championship and here is ten times better than there. So with living and food and everything I am really excited here. But the games were also tough for Lithuania. Everybody thought that they would be in the semi-finals or playing for a high place. But not every summer can be like last summer – two silver medals in European Championships. There were two great teams. But not every year can you do that.
heinnews: This U20 age group is not necessarily your regular age group where you play. What was Lithuania’s thought process on sending you here to play U20s after the U19s? Why did they feel it was good for you to come to this tournament?
Motiejunas: Before the tournament, we were speaking and I said maybe I could choose one of two. And it would probably be this one (U20 Euros) because I was playing with these guys since we were all kids. Like seven of these players I know perfectly, like men, like players. I know them perfectly. So I was saying to the federation maybe it’s not good to play in the two teams. And right now there is a feeling that it was not really very good. Preparing for one national team is one thing. But preparing for two? Different sets, different playing time. It’s everything in one. And right now I am feeling it. I am not playing like I am supposed to play.
heinnews: At times out there you really looked tired on the court. You had the games in New Zealand, it’s warmer here, and again there is the rhythm of three straight days with games. How tired are you right now?
Motiejunas: Right now I’m not tired. It’s a free day. All the guys are gonna rest. For sure tomorrow is gonna be a new day. We’re gonna have more power because it’s a quarter-final and one game means everything. And there are only three games left till our goal. But like I said, it’s really hard. Here it’s hot. It’s like a 20-degree change in temperature for me. The first couple of days it was really, really weird for me – headaches and stuff like that. Some of the other guys were like that too. I mean I came back from winter. It’s hard but I’m doing my best to help the team.
heinnews: Obviously the goal is to win a medal or title as a team, but are you satisfied with your individual performance here?
Motiejunas: Right now I am giving everything on defense. But on offense, I told the coach that I am going to do my best to help the team win. On defense it’s easier to give everything. But on offense, I’m scoring six or seven points. And that’s not a score for me for sure. And everybody sees that and everybody knows that. So I will do my best. But not as an individual, but for the team.
heinnews: Looking at some NBA draft prospects for 2010, some sites even have you as the third pick in next spring’s draft if you decide to go. What do you think about all the talk of the NBA draft?
Motiejunas: In Lithuania they are all talking about that. But right now that is not the biggest decision for me. But instead how I am going to play in this tournament. I’m concentrating on the European Championship. And about teams where I will play next season, nobody knows because I don’t know either. I’m waiting for after this tournament. Then I will go back home and decide where I will play next season. And all Lithuanian journalists are waiting, writing that Donatas will do this or that. For me it’s silly. I’m sitting right here, I’m playing with the team. And they’re writing that I’m rejecting some offer from Zalgiris or some other team. It’s ridiculous. In Lithuania there are young guys who just want to do something. For me, it’s silly though.
But I will be prepared. If I go straight to the draft, then I will be prepared. Because if you go not prepared then why are you going there? I don’t want to sit on the bench for sure.
heinnews: Is the NBA a goal of yours in the next couple of years?
Motiejunas: A couple of teams said to me if you’re going to come in a few years we will prepare you for the draft. But right now I am not prepared for sure. In Europe, players are monsters. But in the NBA, they are giants. Not with these muscles, I cannot play. But I’m doing my best. I’m practicing really hard and preparing my best for sure.
heinnews: You said you’re not ready for the NBA right now, but you’re still only 19 years old. Maybe you can make a scouting report of yourself – your weaknesses and your strengths.
Motiejunas: I am working on myself, but you learn things from coaches. Every coach teaches you things. From one coach, it’s moves. The other is strength. The other is speed. All the coaches are different. In a couple of years if I get stronger … right now I said I played bullshit here. I’m really disappointed with my playing right now on offense. On defense, I’m glad that I’m really helping the guys to make steals or something like that. I’m thinking about the NBA in the future. I am thinking about that. Everybody is thinking about that. They give more money than European teams or something like that. But the biggest problem is they are playing like a one-man team in the NBA. In Europe, like I said, it’s a fist. To be that fist, it’s really hard.
heinnews: Knowing that the European game is more of a team game, is that something that would keep you in Europe?
Motiejunas: It’s the most important thing right now. For me, I have some bad games here. Like against Serbia I only scored two points and did not have a rebound against Croatia. And I was so nervous because I didn’t know how to play when I didn’t get the ball. When you get the ball, you can pass or shoot. You have a lot of possibilities. And if you don’t get it you’re nervous, you don’t defend, you don’t do nothing.
heinnews: You said that you are still looking through offers regarding this season. Not talking about a specific club, but what do you want to do at the club level in the 2009-10 season?
Motiejunas: I’m looking for a team that will give me playing time for sure. I don’t care if it’s Euroleague or EuroCup. But I want to play, and that’s for sure. I’m not going to sit on the bench and watch how the other players are playing. Playing time is the most important thing. Also team play. And hard working for sure.
heinnews: We talked a bit about long-term goals at the club level, what about at the senior national team level?
Motiejunas: You know, I was thinking about next year. Right now I decided that I am not going to play for my national team. That’s my position. I have not said that to anybody right now. But I’m not going to play for sure. I’m a man of my word. I give you my word that I’m not going to play, for sure. If they’re going to call me to the senior team, I’m going to go to the senior team. But for my year, I’m not going to play for sure.
heinnews: Why is that?
Motiejunas: It’s a problem of the team. I don’t want to discuss it here. I said that I’m not going to play. Nobody knows that. But when I go back to Lithuania, I’m going to say that also.
heinnews: What would it be like to play in the senior national team alongside guys like Sarunas Jasikevicius, the Lavrinovics and Robertas Javtokas?
Motiejunas: When you play with those kinds of guys, it’s really great. You can think about how to get everything from them. They’re stars. They know everything. When you play, you have to listen to them. You have to move like them. It’s really tough but it’s great. Even the practices are really, really important for a player. It’s the most important thing.
heinnews: Last question, what would it mean for you to leave Rhodes with a gold medal hanging around your neck?
Motiejunas: (Laughs) Oh, you know, a first-time champion. I have been with this team three times and we always finish fourth. I know this coach for four years, we are like one with one another. I was with Zalgiris’s second team with him. So, he knows me really good. It’s not a secret that we come here for gold. It’s not a secret. But if we want to take gold, we have to give everything. And we have to show that we want it. There were some games where the guys were not playing full power. But right now, I was talking to the guys last night and we are really concentrated on that. We’re ready. Everybody has to be scared of us. Because we have such a good team that maybe in 10 years there will be another Lithuania team like this. This team right now is one of the best in Lithuania. So, I just want to say beware of us because we have so much power. If we play how we can play nobody is going to stop us.