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Euroleague Interview: Martynas Pocius Of Galatasary

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.

Euroleague Final Four MVP Interview: Tyrese Rice Of Maccabi

Tyrese Rice is one of those players who had to advance through his basketball career the hard way. But patience and hard work brought the 6-1 Richmond, VA native success as he raised the Euroleague trophy in Milan last weekend after being awarded the Euroleague's Final Four MVP honor. Five years of waiting and playing overseas in Greece, Lithuania, Germany and Israel has helped Rice to get on top of Europe and win the second most prestigious club basketball award in the world. 

When Rice was attending L.C. Bird High School in 2005, people didn’t believe he was good enough to play DI college ball until he scored 30 points against Kevin Durant’s Oak Hill Academy. But later Rice became the leader of the Boston College Eagles, and successfully played there all four years, averaging 17.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists a game. Then Rice played for five different teams in Europe - Panionios, Artland Dragons, Lietuvos Rytas, Bayern and Maccabi.

I caught up with Rice in the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, in 2011 while he was playing for a Eurocup team Lietuvos Rytas. We met on a sunny day for a photo shoot for SLAM to talk about his high school and college days, being an underdog, NBA dreams, life in Europe and a lot more. Despite conducting this interview nearly three years ago, it is a great opportunity to know more about the Euroleague Final Four MVP.

RealGM: After finishing high school, you were passed over by recruiters. In your opinion, why did this happen?

Rice: I really don’t know. I went to all the big-time camps like Nike camp, adidas camp. After I pretty much did my business there, everybody still passed on me. One thing I heard a lot was big schools didn’t think I was good enough, and smaller schools thought I was too good to go there.

RealGM: Do you remember that game against Oak Hill Academy, where you scored 30 points against Kevin Durant? Is it right to say that game brought a scholarship offer from Boston College?

Rice: Yeah, I remember it. It still gets brought up every once in a while in the city. I hear somebody talking about it. I definitely remember it and they remember it too. I think it brought on the biggest schools. They weren’t sure how I would be able to play against better competition. Playing against [Oak Hill], excelling… It really helped a lot. Boston College was always around, but there were other things, which stopped them from offering me earlier. 

RealGM: What goes through your mind when you think about those days you spent at Boston College? 

Rice: It was all great. I learned so much from coach Al Skinner. I think it was the best four years of my life. We were up—top 5, top 10 in the country. And then we were as low as a losing record. It was a great experience on both sides. We learned to be level-headed and to be in the moment. 

RealGM: Do you still think time-to-time about the game against North Carolina when you scored 46 points?

Rice: I thought it was a good moment in my career, but to me, it didn’t really mean anything because we lost. Having 40 points in a loss really doesn’t mean anything to me because you lose the game. I haven’t watched that game since that happened.

RealGM: What stopped the Eagles run at the Sweet 16?

Rice: We had all the pieces that year and we were just one play away from maybe having a national championship… They got a tip-in at the buzzer that won the game so I can’t really say that they did nothing. Anybody can lose, we seen that happening so many times. 

RealGM: Did you expect to be picked in 2009 NBA Draft? Did you receive positive feedback from NBA teams back then?

Rice: Coming out of college, I felt like I’d done enough to be drafted, but I never set expectations for myself. I go out everyday and take care of my business. Whatever happens after, if the team wants you, they might pick you. That’s what it was. Life still goes on. I thought I had done enough, but maybe I didn’t. There were teams that had a lot of interest in me.

RealGM: What were the main reasons you werent picked in the Draft? 

Rice: I don’t know, I always had to prove myself as a basketball player. In high school, I had to prove I can play in college and in college I thought I proved I can play in the NBA. It could be a lot of things. It’s not always on the basketball court.

RealGM: You played in the NBA Summer League last summer. Do you still feel your NBA dream is alive?

Rice: [Summer League] is good in a lot of ways. NBA teams, scouts and players can see you. And it’s also good because there are also a lot of European scouts as well. It’s almost a win-win situation. You go out there and play; one person likes you and then you have a job for next year. It’s a good opportunity for me to play and be seen. 

RealGM: Youre only 24 years old. What things would you like to prove in your game as a top-caliber player in Europe?

Rice: There are a lot of things that I could improve. Consistency in three-point shooting, rebounding the ball better defensively. I can do a lot of things but I think the main thing I have to do is just focus and get it done. At the end of the day, there’s nobody that is going to stop yourself from being better but yourself. 

RealGM: Have you ever imagined, especially in your senior year in college, that you might start your career overseas, not in the NBA?

Rice: I really never though about it. Like I said, I always take things in a moment. If it was meant for me to go the NBA, I would be going to the NBA. If it’s going overseas, that’s fine. I never looked at it as a failure or I’m not successful in life. I feel like at the the end of the day, I do what I love to do and that’s play basketball. 

RealGM: Last season you played in a small 12,000-person town in Germany, Quakenbruck. Was it tough to live in a such small town, considering you previously lived in Athens and Boston?

Rice: Not really. I’d been all over as a kid. In the summer time, going to different places and being there for weeks. I didn’t think it was that tough. Actually, I think it was really good because I was there, there was nothing to do and I knew I have to focus on basketball and become a better player. I though it was actually great because I stayed right across the street from the gym. There wasn’t much to do, so I went to the gym all the time. I think it was a great thing for me. 

RealGM: In those two seasons in Europe, who surprised you the most?

Rice: It’s just a really different game. Players here in Europe, I think they think the game better than American players, in my opinion. They really read the game a lot better. As you see, players come over from NBA, D-League, they play in Europe and they don’t last over a month, because it’s a totally different game. Off the court, it’s a different culture. If you’ve been to different places in the States then you can go to different places in Europe. The biggest thing to me is food. Just getting used to the food. Everything else is pretty much the same.

RealGM: Are there any funny or interesting stories you could share?

Rice: I got lost in Athens one time. I was about an hour and 30 minutes away from my house. I was thinking I was going on the right way [laughs]. I remember I asked an officer how to get back to where I live he started laughing like, ‘Are you serious? Do you know how far from your house you are right now?’ I had no idea where I was. I thought I was in Athens but really far away from my house. It took me about an hour and 30 minutes to get back home. It was like 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. It was really late and that was crazy.

RealGM: A lot of NBA guys are moving overseas for the first time. What is the best advice you could give them?

Rice: I think they just have to embrace the culture. If you come over here thinking that this is going to be anything like home, then you’re wrong. It’s better when you’re in bigger cities. Vilnius is good, there’s a lot of malls, lots of things to do. But you might get to the smaller city like I was in last year and I didn’t know what to do.

RealGM: Have you ever thought about playing in the D-League?

Rice: I thought about it but not much. I just want to go out and have fun playing basketball and be able to provide the right things for my family. To play in D-League is OK, but playing in the Euroleague to me is the second-best thing to playing in the NBA. If you can’t play in the NBA and you play in the Euroleague, you are almost just as good.

RealGM: Talking about your new team, why did you decide to sign with Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius this summer?

Rice: I thought it was great situation for myself. I knew they had a new coach coming in and I heard a lot of good things about him. I knew some players coming here and I knew we were going to have a great team. And being able to qualify for the Euroleague was another great thing. I thought it would be good for any player’s resume.

RealGM: Once you got here, you said you were ready to lead this team. After those friendly games, do you still see yourself as a leader of Lietuvos Rytas?

Rice: I’m still just learning my teammates. I think I can be one of the leaders of this team. I’m not coming over here and trying to take over but being a point guard, I have to be able to turn the team in the right direction.

RealGM: Did you have a chance to practice with Jonas Valanciuas or see him playing?

Rice: He didn’t practice with us yet but I have seen him play. I know he’s going to help me and I really think I can help him also. He’s going to be a really good player.

RealGM: Did you watch EuroBasket 2011?

Rice: Actually, I watch it every year. I watched the European Championships and World Championships. There are a lot of guys who you may not have ever heard of. But they are great in Europe—you just didn’t hear about them at home. Watching EuroBasket is like watching a bunch of great players playing at one time. It’s good to watch different people and learn from them. 

RealGM: You probably saw Bo McCalebbs superb performance at EuroBasket 2011. Would you consider an offer to play for a European country if you get one? 

Rice: If that opportunity came on my away, I would probably take it. I don’t see how it could hurt me and my career. It can only make me better. More experience and more people would see me. It would be a great opportunity. 

RealGM's 2014 Euroleague Awards

As the Euroleague season comes to an end, RealGM again presents the most outstanding players of Euroleague.

Sergio Rodriguez of Real Madrid is the winner of the RealGM Euroleague MVP award for the 2013-14 season. The 27-year-old point guard has improved all of his main statistical numbers this season, averaging 13.5 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Rodriguez has also helped his team, which holds a 24-5 record this season, to defeat 2011-12 and 2012-13 Euroleague champions Olympiakos Piraeus in the playoffs to reach the Final Four.

Rodriguez is also the winner of the 2013-14 Euroleague Sixth Man of the Year Award as the playmaker came off the bench in every of 29 Euroleague games he played this season.

The RealGM All-Euroleague First Team consists of EA7 Emporio Armani's Keith Langford and Rodriguez at guard, CSKA's Sonny Weems and Real's Nikola Mirotic at forward and FC Barcelona's Ante Tomic at center.

The RealGM All-Euroleague Second Team includes guards Malcolm Delaney of Bayern and Rudy Fernandez of Real, forwards Emir Preldzic of Fenerbahce Ulker and Derrick Brown of Lokomotiv Kuban, and center Bryan Dunston of Olympiakos.

Malcolm Delaney is the winner of the Euroelague Rookie of the Year Award, while 21-year-old Bogdan Bogdanovic of Partizan was the RealGM pick to win the Most Improved Played Award.

Pablo Laso of Real was named as the 2012-13 Euroleague Coach of the Year.

Euroleague MVP

Sergio Rodriguez (Real)

All-Euroleague 1st Team

Sergio Rodriguez (Real) - 13.5 points, 2 rebounds and 5 assists in 23 minutes

Keith Langford (EA7 Emporio Armani) - 17.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 30 minutes

Sonny Weems (CSKA) - 12.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 29 minutes

Nikola Mirotic (Real) - 12.2 points (46 3FG%), 4.6 rebounds in 24 minutes

Ante Tomic (FC Barcelona) - 11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds in 22 minutes

All-Euroleague 2nd Team

Malcolm Delaney (Bayern) - 13.9 points, 3.4 rebounds in 4.5 assists in 28 minutes

Rudy Fernandez (Real) - 13.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 27 minutes

Emir Preldzic (Fenerbahce Ulker) - 10.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists in 29 minutes

Derrick Brown (Lokomotiv Kuban) - 13.9 points, 4.5 rebounds in 29 minutes

Bryant Dunston (Olympiakos) - 10.3 points, 5.3 rebounds in 25 minutes

Sixth Man Award

Sergio Rodriguez (Real)

Most Improved Player Award

Bogdan Bogdanovic (Partizan) - 14.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 32 minutes

Coach of the Year

Pablo Laso (Real)

Rookie of the Year

Malcolm Delaney (Bayern)

All-Rookie 1st Team

Bryant Dunston (Olympiakos)

Derrick Brown (Lokomotiv Kuban)

Justin Dentmon (Zalgiris) - 16.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 30 minutes

Malcolm Delaney (Bayern)

Matthew Lojeski (Olympiakos) - 11.1 points (43 3FG%), 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 25 minutes

All-Rookie 2nd Team

John Bryant (Bayern) - 7.8 points, 6.5 rebounds in 21 minutes

Lamont Hamilton (Laboral Kutxa) - 10.3 points, 3.6 rebounds in 19 minutes

Scotty Hopson (Anadolu Efes) - 15.5 points (48 3FG%), 4.2 rebounds in 29 minutes

Vladimir Dragicevic (Stelmet) - 14.7 points, 6.7 rebounds in 28 minutes

Will Daniels (JSF Nanterre) -11.5 points, 4.7 rebounds in 21 minutes

Euroleague's Best U-21 Players of 13-14

With less than a month remaining until the Euroleague Final Four in Milan, RealGM presents a list of ten young (21-year-old or younger) Euroleague players that had the most success in 13-14 season.

Euroleague Interview: Justin Dentmon Of Zalgiris

RealGM caught up with Justin Dentmon in Panevezys, Lithuania during the Lithuanian cup Final Four event to talk about the current crisis in Zalgiris, his personal game, life in Kaunas and more

Euroleague Interview: Malcolm Delaney Of Bayern Munich

RealGM caught up with Malcolm Delaney in Europe to talk about Bayern’s performance in the Euroleague, the team’s affiliation with the soccer program, his future plans and much more.

Europe Interview: Luke Harangody Of Unics Kazan

RealGM caught up with Luke Harangody to talk about his experience in Russia, playing under foreigner coach, NBA and more.

Euroleague Power Rankings (Mid-December Edition)

With less than two weeks remaining until the end of its regular season, RealGM presents the Euroleague Power Rankings. We evaluated and ranked all 24 teams' performance over their first eight games and their perspective for the next rounds.

Euroleague Interview: Alexis Ajinca Of Strasbourg IG

RealGM spoke with Alexis Ajinca to talk about the restart of his career, his plans to get back to the NBA, France's national team and much more.

Euroleague Power Rankings For Mid-November

Fenerbahce Ulker, Real Madrid, Olympiacos, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Barcelona, Anadolu Efes and CSKA are at the top of RealGM's Euroleague rankings.

Euroleague Power Rankings (End Of October Edition)

While Real Madrid, Fenerbahce Ulker, CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos are at the top of the table and our rankings, Alexis Ajinca has been playing like an MVP candidate.

Europe Interview: Jeremy Pargo Of CSKA

RealGM caught up with Jeremy Pargo to talk about his time in the NBA, his decision to join CSKA, the upcoming season in Russia and more.

The Euroleague Elite 50-40-90 Club

Nikola Mirotic, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Trajan Langdon are amongst the Euroleague players that have shot better than 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line.

Europe Interview: Deon Thompson Of Alba Berlin

RealGM recently caught up with Deon Thompson to discuss his success in Europe, his game improvement and plans to make it to the NBA.

Euroleague Interview: Ettore Messina Of CSKA

RealGM sat down with Ettore Messina in London to talk about what the future holds for CSKA, the Euroleague Final Four format, Viktor Khryapa and things that money can't buy.

Euroleague Interview: President Jordi Bertomeu

RealGM sat down with Euroleague president Jordi Bertomeu to discuss the 2012-13 season, the new format of the competition, its biggest problems and the future of Euroleague.

Europe Interview: Nemanja Nedovic Of Lietuvos Rytas

RealGM sat down with Nemanja Nedovic in Vilnius to talk about his first season with Lietuvos Rytas, development in the Euroleague, his NBA dream and much more.

The Euroleague MVP Race

Bobby Brown, Viktor Khryapa, Vassilis Spanoulis, Rudy Fernandez, Nenad Krstic, Jordan Farmar, Sonny Weems and Ante Tomic are all candidates to win the Euroleague MVP this season.

Europe Interview: Josh Powell Of Olympiacos

RealGM caught up with Josh Powell in Greece for a one-on-one interview to discuss his new team Olympiacos, Euroleague, his career in the NBA, Lakers and much more.

Europe Interview: Dontaye Draper Of Real Madrid

Over the past couple of season Dontaye Draper has established himself in Europe as a pass-first type Euroleague point guard with excellent scoring skills.

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