#ZalgirisOnAir. Sarunas Jasikevicius: corn fields, a wrong NBA choice and the Zalgiris system 22
The #ZalgirisOnAir podcast that launched this season has been drawing in viewers and listeners alike, and has a special treat for the final episode of 2019 – a conversation with Zalgiris Kaunas’ head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius.
The hosts of the podcast, Rytis Kazlauskas and Kipras Serpauskas joined Jasikevicius for a guided tour about the most memorable moments of the specialist’s career and talked about the Zalgiris of today.
Jasikevicius took his first steps towards a professional basketball career in the United States, as he left for High School there at the age of 16.
“I remember landing in New York, thinking: “Now this is America”. We get to drive for 4 hours before finally getting to my town, and we saw that there was not a single street light. I woke up the next morning and realized that it’s corn fields all around me for as far as the eye can see.”
Some of Jasikevicius’ greatest victories came wearing a Maccabi Tel Aviv jersey, as he won the EuroLeague twice, being named the Final Four MVP in one of those occasions. The specialist looked back at the practices of Pini Gershon with a smile, who was quite the opposite to a strict head coach.
“In some interview, I mentioned that Pini would eat burgers and pizzas during practices. The interview came out a little bit later, and there I have it, a week after I’m getting a call from Pini: “Hey, Malaka, you lie to people!” I thought the coach was angry with me, but then he just added “Why are you lying to people that I eat pizza. I always eat kebabs!”
After his years in Maccabi, Jasikevicius moved on to the NBA, where he played for the Indiana Pacers and Golden State Warriors. While the point guard couldn’t find a spot in the league, he now looks back and sees making a huge mistake in his team of choice, with the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz, or playing with his buddy Zydrunas Ilgauskas in Cleveland as much better options.
Jasikevicius also talked about his first meeting facing Shaquille O’Neal, who was playing for the championship Miami Heat squad and the sheer size of one of the all-time greats.
“I always tried not even looking at the opponent’s side during warm-up. You’re trying to stay concentrated, and the guys on the other side of the court – that’s the enemy. I’m running laps, and then I’m like, “I need to look at Shaq.” I do one lap: “I’m not going to look at him,” I think to myself. But then I turned around and while there’s 12 players running, there’s only one in your eyes… Alonzo Mourning was there, and he looked like a baby next to Shaq.”
After his run in the NBA, Jasikevicius signed a deal with Panathinaikos, where he joined Greek legend Dimitris Diamantidis at the OAKA. Speaking of one of his all-time favorite teammates, Jasikevicius highlighted the fact that Diamantidis was near-impossible to take out partying.
“I would have to go to his house, take Diamantidis by the jacket, push him into the car, lock the doors so he couldn’t open them to get away. That’s the only way you’re going to get him out to town.”
At the end of the conversation, Jasikevicius talked about the Zalgiris system and the main principles that every Zalgiris player must account for.
“You’ve got to think about what is being asked of you. You’ve got to adjust to the players and help make the information easier to grasp, some of the players simply understand more than the others. Before every game we’ve got a list of rules, how we’re going to defend and those rules are non-negotiable. Offensively, I give them where we want to attack, who we want to attack, how to create area. Spacing for me is the most important thing. If you have room around you, it will make the player look better. That’s my job as a coach, making space for him.”