After dealing with injuries and playing in only 27 games during 12-13 season, 28-year-old guard Martynas Pocius revived his career in Kaunas where he was one of the key players for Lithuanian champion Zalgiris.
Pocius played the best game of his career against Galatasaray last season, a team he will join for 14-15 season, scoring 26 points and along with four rebounds. The Lithuanian national team and former Duke University guard also managed to make seven threes in a single game against Strasbourg and repeat Zalgiris Euroleague record in that category. Pocius averaged 10.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 23 minutes in Euroleague and helped Zalgiris to reach Top 16 stage.
RealGM caught up with Pocius in Kaunas during the Lithuanian national team training camp to talk about being raised in sportsmen family, development of young players, 2014 FIBA World, future with Galatasaray and more.
RealGM: First of all, what was it like to grow up in a family of athletes?
Pocius: The main difference between a regular family and mine was that I was always surrounded by sports. At the same time, it is more difficult because my father was a professional basketball player and if a father wants to make a good basketball player of his son, he wakes him up every morning and takes him to the basketball court. I had to train there and it didn’t matter if I wanted that or not. He knew that I needed that, while a regular dad who does not know much about the game maybe would not do the same thing. Apart from this, I don’t think it differs a lot. When you are a kid, everyone supports you and wishes you all the best.
RealGM: Did you feel at the time that your habits came from your family were different than your friends?
Pocius: Of course. Everything was related with basketball. Before going to school, I always went to the basketball court. While everybody sleeps, you make shots. Then you go to school and afterwards you cannot spent too much time playing outside because I had to do my homework before the evening training. I was always busy because those extra trainings took my time.
RealGM: I read that your move to the U.S. in 2003 was very spontaneous. Do you remember how that happened?
Pocius: It all happened after I attended Steponas Kairys' basketball camp in Silute. I went there for only one day and he really liked what he saw. In a week or ten days I was already in the U.S. and I didn’t expect everything to happen so quickly.
RealGM: Usually basketball coaches emphasize the importance of giving playing time for young players. However, you did not get many chances to play while you were at Duke, but you still developed yourself into a Euroleague and national team level player.
Pocius: A basketball game lasts for 40 minutes. But everyday you train at the highest level for two or three hours, this is what brings you most benefit. I didn’t play much and it was difficult for me but everyday I was part of training. I believe that those practices, lessons I learned from Coach K and routine we had there gave me a lot.
RealGM: Do you think that coaches in Lithuania feel too much pressure to play young players?
Pocius: If you have great young players and they deserve to play, then why not. But you cannot play youngsters who are not ready for a certain level just because somebody tells you to do that. If a player deserves that and coach see his performance in practices, he should play. Of course, there are situations when you have to play over 70 games in three or four leagues in one season, and you want to rest your older guys or leaders, then you can give chances for young players as well.
RealGM: While watching you play last season, it seemed that you were slowly becoming a veteran player. For example, instead of driving to the basket, now you more often take a three-pointer or make a pass. Do you feel that your game and decision-making is changing?
Pocius: I agree. At first, you do not think much because everything is new, you can run as much as you want and you want to score. I remember Marcus Brown was telling that I was a great player but I need to calm down and start to think. It also has much to do with injuries I suffered and pain I feel and sometimes because of that instead of driving and dunking, I try to make smarter decision, take a shot or do something else. Before I broke my hand last season, I didn’t feel good but afterwards my health condition got much better. In every team you play, you try to take as much experience you can. I took a lot while I was with Real Madrid, this season I learned from Sarunas Jasikevicius. I try to use my main strengths while also taking care of my health. I feel like I am slowly becoming a so-called veteran player.
RealGM: I see some similarities between you and Tomas Dimsa. Did you have much time to work out with him and give him any advices?
Pocius: We were roommates last season and he’s a great player. It is difficult to say what kind of player I was at his age because that was very long time ago. He’s 20-years old right now and at that time I was still in the States and I did not play for Zalgiris. Despite his young age, he’s already a member of this team, he got enough playing time and he performed really well in practices. I learned throughout my career that the main thing is when you think that you already archived something, do not stop and keep going forward. When you calm down and you feel you’re a great player, then you start to fall down.
RealGM: Moving on to the Galatasaray, why did you decide you join this team and did you have a chance to have a better look at their summer moves?
Pocius: In basketball, you never know where you might end up playing. Before we signed a contract with Zalgiris, both me and the general manager, Paulius Motiejunas, knew that most likely I will leave the team after one season, therefore Zalgiris could get a buyout. It was a great offer that I could not refuse. Also I talked with the coach and he really wanted to see me playing for Galatasaray. I did not see a reason why I shouldn’t sign with Galatasaray.
When I had my health check in Istanbul, I talked with coaches and agents who told me what the roster would look like. I know pretty much all the names while not all of them have been officially announced. I know some of the guys personally as Nolan Smith was my teammate at Duke for three years. The team will be really good but for me it was also important that coach likes me and he wanted to have me on his squad. I really did check everything and so far everything seems to be ok.
RealGM: Is it easier to concentrate on work with the Lithuanian national after sorting out the contract with Galatasaray?
Pocius: It is always like that. I had a contract by the end of first week with the national team. It also helps with insurance. It is not official yet, but signatures are there. Right now I do not think about Galatasaray as everything seems to be so far away. My concentration is on the national team now.
RealGM: Talking about FIBA decisions, what was players’ reaction to the news that EuroBasket will change to a four-year cycle?
Pocius: I didn’t really think about it. When does it start? I hope I’ll still be playing at that time, otherwise it might not be important for me. However, a free summer is priceless for every basketball player. Especially it is tough if you have such long season as I had with Real Madrid. Because of not getting any time to rest, in the middle of the season you start to break down and get injured. Proper rest is very important but it is not up to players to decide and you cannot say, “I’m not coming”.
RealGM: What are your personal goals for this upcoming 2014 FIBA World Cup?
Pocius: I don’t want to talk loudly about it. However, for the last couple years the most important thing for me is to stay healthy. If I stay healthy, everything else will come in time. I don’t have any high goals for myself as we play for Lithuania and the most important thing is team’s result.
RealGM: Did you ever have offers to participate in NBA summer league? Do you see yourself trying your luck in the NBA?
Pocius: I had two offers while I was with Zalgiris to take part in NBA training camp, but I had a back surgery and it did not work out. Anyway, I don’t have big intentions to play in the NBA. Everything is great in Europe, both playing and money wise. I’m not that young anymore to try myself everywhere. However, if I get a chance, you never know. But I don’t think about it now.