In last year’s combine hosted by the Brooklyn Nets, being the tallest player didn’t help 7-foot-1 center Mindaugas Kupsas leave a deeper impression on NBA scouts. But the big man out of Lithuania believes that the annual adidas EuroCamp this season will be a different story.
After withdrawing his name from 2012 NBA Draft, Kupsas continued developing his game in Lithuania, playing for Lietkabelis Panevezys. The center improved his numbers in all statistical categories, averaging 10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 34 games played in 12-13 season.
RealGM sat down with auto-eligible Kupsas, who is the only potential NBA draftee from Lithuania this year, to talk about his development, the upcoming NBA draft, future plans and much more.
RealGM: First of all, most of basketball fans know nothing about you. Could you tell me how you began playing basketball?
Kupsas: Well, I grew up in a, let’s say, grange. My parents divorced when I was 15 or 16. I was always taller and bigger than my other friends at school. There were no proper facilities in the place where I grew up to play hoops, therefore my aunt told Sabonis basketball school about me and the story began. I started playing basketball very late, but the good part is that I never had serious injuries while I was playing.
RealGM: Instead of going to the U.S. and playing in NCAA, why did you decide to continue your career in Lithuania?
Kupsas: As I said, I started to play basketball very late and I guess I would have age limitations in the NCAA program. Therefore, at that time, Zalgiris signed me when I was young for a long-term contract. The NCAA is a great system, you get a diploma of university while you hoop and you get to know different cultures as well.
RealGM: What were the reasons for your withdrawal from previous draft and why you feel you’re more ready to step into the league than last year?
Kupsas: Last year I withdrew my name from the draft because my agents and I talked about it and decided it would be best for me to spend another season preparing and becoming a known player. Last year was my introduction to the NBA. I worked out with NBA teams and got the feedback for what I need to work on and get better to become an NBA player. Now the goal is to show how I developed myself in a year and demonstrate that in June at adidas EuroCamp in Treviso.
RealGM: Tell me about your performance in Nets combine held last year in New Jersey.
Kupsas: I was jet-lagged like crazy, wasn’t prepared at all, barely saw the basket. The opponents were shorter, faster and it wasn’t the performance I wanted to show in front of the all these respected NBA scouts. Adidas EuroCamp in Treviso camp will be a different story.
RealGM: A year ago you were competing against Jonas Valanciunas in Lithuanian league. Could you share your experience on playing against the Raptors’ big man?
Kupsas: Honestly, It was good. If you ask me was it hard for me to play against him, my answer would be absolutely no. I enjoyed it every second. I had no problems guarding him at all. Playing against Lavrinovic brothers is harder, that’s for sure.
RealGM: Which specific areas of your game you've been working on this year?
Kupsas: I would say I was trying to improve majority of areas and I’m still working on it. I am better now at Pick and Roll situations and I love playing it a lot. My shooting is now significantly different as well. I don’t sway when making a jump shot or playing back to the basket. I think I started to “go hard” on defense as well.
RealGM: In your opinion, which aspects of your game need to improve the most to be able to play in the NBA right away?
Kupsas: I want to be faster, I want to defend faster players. Now my physical program is focused to vertical, so I can be more aggressive when I get the ball under the basket so either I can make a baby hook or simply dunk on another player who guards me. During the season I’ve heard from NBA scouts about my lack of vertical, so before the NBA Draft I want to show how I proved myself.
RealGM: If tomorrow was your first day in the NBA, what can you do to help your team to improve? What are your strong sides?
Kupsas: I would fulfill and complete whatever the coach told me to do. Of course, I would focus on defense like crazy, I don’t mind going into contact also. I like to block shots. In my first day in the NBA, I wouldn’t be upset if I left the arena without scoring a point, but our team won.
RealGM: Do you believe it is a right time to play in the NBA, or would you still want to remain in Europe?
Kupsas: If I'm drafted, it is really dependent on the NBA club. Either they would like me to play in the D-League in the first year, or for a season or two in Europe.
RealGM: What are your current plans for this draft summer?
Kupsas: At the moment I am working out with Zalgiris team in Kaunas, twice a day. I also arrive an hour earlier before start of practice. I spend around six hours at the gym per day and, honestly, I feel I am getting better every day. I think it’s a priceless chance to learn from Zalgiris’ head coach Joan Plaza and compete against Robertas Javtokas or Lavrinovic brothers. Later on I will be working out with a personal trainer on my skills. I should be 100 percent ready for adidas EuroCamp.