heinnews’s David Hein went to the Eurocup game between Alba Berlin and Benetton Treviso and had a chat with Benetton’s talented Lithuanian power forward/center Donatas Motiejunas. They discussed Benetton playing better in the Eurocup than in the Italian Serie A; possibly playing the Eurocup Finals (Final Four) on their home court; his decision to leave Lithuania for Benetton in 2009; NBA comparisons; the NBA lockout and the 2011 NBA Draft; and his compatriot Jonas Valanciunas of Lietuvos Rytas.
heinnews: The team seems to be playing better in the Eurocup than the Serie A. What’s happening at home?
Motiejunas: I don’t know. I think the level in Eurocup is much higher than the Italian league. Maybe it’s like the coach said. We players are having mental problems at home. We play here much better than back home. It’s not usual that in our championship we lose on the road games that are supposed to be ours. We just kind of give up. But (in the Eurocup) we really show the character and really have good defense and win.
heinnews: The team is in the quarterfinals (where they will face Göttingen) with just one step to the Eurocup Finals on your home court. How great would that be?
Motiejunas: I think every team wants to play the Final Four at home. The final four is the best. The gym is probably gonna be full and the support is going to be wild and crazy. And it will be tougher for the opposing teams. So it’s a big advantage. But we’ll see how it will be. First of all we have to get there.
heinnews: Take us back to summer of 2009 when you were deciding where you would play. Did you think you needed to leave Lithuania to grow on your own?
Motiejunas: I decided with my parents. It was a really hard decision. Benetton promised me everything and gave me everything. Every manager supported me like my father. So that makes all the other things easier. The main factor was that they gave me what I could not get from other teams in Europe – that much support from all the management in Benetton like I get now. And I’m really happy with that.
heinnews: Playing time was a major issue you said in August 2009 before the move.
Motiejunas: For my father it was the most important thing – and for me also – that I play. It doesn’t matter how much they promise or what’s in the contract. It matters to my parents and me that I play. That was the main factor. If I play a bull-shit game then I only play three minutes. It’s my problem. But if I play good, my parents don’t want me to sit on the bench.
heinnews: How has your development been off the court being away from home?
Motiejunas: The first year was a little bit difficult. I didn’t really have an important place in the team. But I was still working really hard. Some games I didn’t really feel like playing. So it was a really tough year. But the first year you just have to give your best and push yourself and not give up. This year when I came back to Treviso I felt like I was coming back home.
heinnews: Where have you improved most in last 1.5 seasons and where do you need the most work?
Motiejunas: It’s not for me to say. The last period I’m not really happy with my game but it’s important that the team is winning. That’s it. For me it’s important that we win something because the last couple years I give my best and work really hard to improve and sometimes I go on the court and don’t feel like I am playing. It’s a pretty tough situation for me but I know I can get through it with some hard work. That’s all you need.
heinnews: You told heinnews at the U20 European Championship in 2009 that you were not prepared for NBA draft: “In Europe, the players are monsters. But in the NBA they are giants. Not with these muscles, I cannot play.” What are your thoughts on hearing that now – about 1.5 years ago?
Motiejunas: In Rhodes the coaches put me in some different positions. I was playing a five and four. Here the coach said to me you will not be a five. You will never be as strong as other players. But at the four you have all the chances. You’re quick enough. You have everything. You’re pretty athletic. So you can only be four. I think in my position I can play some back-to-the-basket.
heinnews: There is a real possibility that the NBA will have a lockout next season. What are your thoughts on that?
Motiejunas: We’ll see. The season is not finished and we’ll see what’s going to happen. If there’s going to be a lockout, if I get drafted – it’s the same to me. If I go to the draft, or if I don’t go to the draft. One more year in Europe is not going to be bad for me.
heinnews: You also said you like the European team game and aren’t the biggest fan of the one-man NBA game. With the improving money in European basketball and the team game, why don’t you just stay in Europe and not play in the NBA?
Motiejunas: My goal is to improve as much as I can. Wherever I improve that’s most important. I want to have someone work with me all the time. Passing the ball to me in practice, or giving me advice what moves I should use. For me it’s important to step forward as a player right now. That’s the most important thing for me.
heinnews: You are ranked between seventh and 10th in NBA mock drafts for 2011. How much attention do you pay to talk of the NBA Draft?
Motiejunas: I never watch any of that. I’m not the kind of guy to watch that. Which pick I’m going to be isn’t important to me. Whenever I am drafted, time will show that I have a will to give everything he has and to improve. I am not a guy who just wants to get drafted. There are a lot of examples of players in the top five and they never really reached their goals. And there are loads of perfect examples of players who were not drafted and are playing the NBA right now. Important is how much you love basketball and how much you want to improve.
heinnews: Looking over scouting reports of you there have been comparisons to Pau Gasol and Andrea Bargnani. Which is closest and why?
Motiejunas: Everybody is talking how I will be like this player or this player or how I will turn out. I’m going to be different from all of them. The old school taught me a lot of things. When I was in the second Zalgiris team the coach who was showing me moves was 90 years old. Everything was old school. Right now I’m learning from players I see on TV – the moves what they are doing. And I am comparing them and putting them into my game. But I think I will be different and unique. But time will show. I didn’t reach anything yet.
heinnews: Another young Lithuanian player is being projected in the NBA Draft – Jonas Valanciunas of Lietuvos Rytas. How much do you follow him and what do you think of him as a player and person?
Motiejunas: I haven’t played with him. I never really met him that much. We said hi a couple times. But have never played national team together. My opinion is that people trying to compare us – especially my country people – is a big mistake because we are two different types of players. I think he’s a really good player right now. He’s a ’92 and he’s really playing like a great player. If he keeps working hard he’s going to have a bright future – just like everybody is saying. He knows that himself but it’s important that the side things don’t spin his head around.
heinnews: You didn’t make the 2010 Lithuania team at World Championship in Turkey. Were you disappointed at all?
Motiejunas: If you don’t make the national team it’s always a little bit disappointing. But at the beginning of the summer I had (Achilles) surgery – at the end of the season.
heinnews: What are your thoughts on possibly playing at the 2011 EuroBasket in your homeland?
Motiejunas: I don’t want to think of this. After the season I will stay in Treviso to work out and just improve as much as I can this summer. We’ll see if it’s here or if it’s in the States for some time. I know that I will not try to have big breaks.