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Euroleague Interview: Justin Dentmon Of Zalgiris

Before the start of 13-14 season, Zalgiris had a limited budget to find a guard who could do it all - score, pass and guide the club in Euroleague. Zalgiris chose Justin Dentmon to lead the team to the Euroleague Top 16 stage and after few months it was obvious that the 28-year-old guard was a perfect fit for the extreme situation with Kaunas.

Dentmon didn’t blossom into an elite Euroleague point guard until a coaching change happened and Saulius Stombergas replaced Ilias Zouros. After that, Dentmon received a green light and complete freedom, which helped him become one of the best scorers in the league. Dentmon currently ranks second in scoring in Euroleague with 16.5 points per game, as he also averages 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds.

RealGM caught up with 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. 

RealGM: First of all, what goes through your mind when you think about the seven months you spent in Lithuania?

Dentmon: With the first coach, he really tried to control me. I didn’t play well at that time and I almost left. Then coaching changes happened and the rhythm was good, but now we’re going downhill fast and I don’t know why. I’m out of the rhythm and to be honest, I have no idea what’s going on. But the beginning was rough and then it got better. It’s been a good seven months, but now we’re going downhill fast.

RealGM: Were you surprised about the coaching changes and Ilias Zouros' departure, which happened early this season? The main reason of was not giving enough playing time for young players.

Dentmon: If you want to win Euroleague games, you need play your veterans and guys with experience, talent that can play. And in the Lithuanian championship (LKL), you can use your young guys so they could prove they can play. I think that’s what he was doing here. There were misunderstandings and the team was losing. It’s a business and Zalgiris had to make a business move.

RealGM: The level of players on Zalgiris this season is very diverse. Some of the players are national team caliber guys, while some of them struggle to play in the LKL. How difficult for you is it to compete with others when some of your teammates are far away from their opponents in terms of talent?

Dentmon: It is very difficult and it is very different from the United States. The mentality is different and sometimes it’s difficult to explain. If you’re a professional athlete, you have to know how to motivate yourself and nobody should tell you about that. And it seems that sometimes we need to motivate our guys, which shouldn’t be a case. The excuse is always that they are young. When I was young, I had stuff to prove, to be better than the next person. I think that’s how young guys should take it; they should want to prove that they are better than other guys. Guys on other teams are looking at our guys like 'we can be better than you'. I think they should take it as a challenge and they should take it seriously.

RealGM: The situation in Zalgiris gave you lots of opportunities as well. Do you think Kaunas was a great place to showcase yourself?

Dentmon: All my hard work paid off, but I want to finish strong. Being the only American on a Euroleague Top 16 team, it feels like I’m doing too much work. I think it should be easier if you have a guard like me, you would want to make things easier for me. In other teams, they make it easier for their scorers. We struggle with our roles; we don’t know who plays what role. I’m trying to do the best I can, showcase myself and I also want to win the Lithuanian championship.

RealGM: Very often you seem to be frustrated with the calls you get or you would like to get from the referees. Does that cause any trouble for you to keep your focus on the game?

Dentmon: Mentally, it’s very difficult. Especially, when they see that and they don’t saying anything. They say that I’m a rookie, but that doesn’t mean anything. If you see a charge, call a foul. That’s really frustrating, when refs see it and they say nothing. When other defender feels that he can grab me, he does it. It’s not like I'm out my game, but I think 'what can I do? There’s nothing I can do about it'. They throw me off my rhythm in offence. Some of responsibility is on me, but most of it is on coaches because they have to figure out different strategy. We need to find stuff that would help us.

RealGM: You’re one of few players in Europe who whenever get fouled, always try to take a shot and get to the free throw line. It doesn’t matter is it inside the key or it’s the half court. Where did you learn that?

Dentmon: I always do that! I got that from Chris Paul. We have the Hack-a-Shaq thing in the U.S., so whenever somebody tries to foul Chris Paul, he takes a shot. So I’m always thinking, if they are going to foul me, I will shoot and get three free throw shots. Like I said, I got it from Chris Paul. Someday, they will give me a call and they will award me with three free throw shots. They don’t call it enough and they don’t want to give it to me yet, but I will keep doing it.

RealGM: Talking about your life in Kaunas, I heard that at first you had a hard time adapting there. With the time, did it get any better?

Dentmon: It was very tough. Now it got much better, I have my man Mindaugas (who works for Zalgiris). I know places where I can eat, so it is much easier. Going to shopping mall and playing video games on Xbox keeps my mind off basketball. Overall, now living in Kaunas is much easier for me.

Euroleague Power Rankings (End Of October Edition)

As Euroleague hits Week 3 of its regular season, RealGM presents the Euroleague Power Rankings. We evaluated and ranked the performance of all 24 Euroleague teams over their first two games and their perspective in future battles.

The number in brackets shows position in preseason ranking.

1. (3) Real Madrid 2-0

The champions of Spain, Real Madrid has started the season with two easy wins and demonstrated strong discipline on defense. Real has the best defensive rating (DRtg) in the league so far, allowing their opponents to score only 81.8 points per 100 possessions.

2. (5) Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul 2-0

Fenerbahce Ulker was behind Budivelnik in the third quarter of Week 1’s game,  but scored 31 points in last ten minutes and showed their capabilities to blow any mediocre team out in just one quarter. Now they have defeated FC Barcelona and proved that their horrible last season is already forgotten.

3. (1) CSKA Moscow 2-0

Despite awful shooting from beyond the arc (25 percent), CSKA managed to steal wins in both weeks in France and Ukraine. It seems that CSKA is still in experimental mode and trying to find ways to win games by using nine star players. The real strength of CSKA will be seen in next two weeks when the Russians face two Top 5 teams in Fenerbahce Ulker and FC Barcelona.

4. (2) Olympiacos Piraeus 2-0

Even without Kostas Papanikolaou, now with FC Barcelona, Olympiacos remains the best three-point shooting team in the league (44 percent). Once again, Olympiacos demonstrates the same style as in both games with Unicaja and Galatasaray, the reds were down in the third quarter but found ways to bounce back and grab those wins.

5. (4) FC Barcelona 1-1

The newcomers Papanikolou and Maciej Lampe are two out of three players who get most playing time in FC Barcelona this season (the third is Marcelinho Huertas). No surprise, FC Barcelona will need more time to glue the core as they struggled for 30 minutes to beat Partizan and couldn’t impose their style of play to Fenerbahce Ulker in the previous game.

6. (6) Panathinaikos Athens 1-1

After a surprising loss in Vilnius, Panathinaikos successfully bounced back and beat Laboral Luxa at home as they also matched the Euroleague assists record (31). Panathinaikos was the only Euroleague team this offseason that maintained their whole starting five, therefore the core of the team that stayed together for a few years should be among the leaders in assists all season long.

7. (9) Anadolu Efes Istanbul 2-0

Anadolu Efes had to put more effort to beat Strasbourg IG in last week’s game than it was expected, but the Turkish club still started the season with two wins under their belt. Moreover, Anadolu Efes found a new leader, Scotty Hopson, who has been playing like an MVP candidate, averaging 21 points and 5 rebounds per game.

8. (8) Laboral-Kutxa Vitoria 1-1

Fernando San Emeterio’s injury revealed how important he is to Laboral Kutxa. While the Spaniard was still on the squad, Laboral Kutxa grabbed a win against same-level Maccabi, but without San Emeterio, Vitoria was simply destroyed in Athens versus Panathinaikos.

9. (7) Maccabi Tel Aviv 1-1

Maccabi, which doesn’t have as much talent as it use to in 2004-2010 seasons, has been facing problems in the least expected place - inside the paint. Tibor Pleiss and Lamont Hamilton of Laboral Kutxa combined for 38 Euroleague rating points in the first week’s game against Maccabi, while Ivan Radenovic and Boban Marjanovic of Crvena Zvezda, both collected 49 (!) rating points in the last match versus Maccabi.

10. (12) Lokomotiv-Kuban Krasnodar 2-0

No doubt, Lokomotiv-Kuban will be one of the fastest teams in Euroleague that will be hard to stop in transition. Once Lokomotiv-Kuban play small ball, opponents find it very difficult to catch up with Krasnodar’s pace as their fast frontcourt, Derrick Brown and Richard Hendrix, was dominant in the first two weeks.

11. (14) Bayern Munich 2-0

Bayern was lucky enough to get lower-caliber opponents in the opening weeks and they used this chance by beating them both. Led by Nihad Djedovic, Munich looked very solid as they allowed their opponents to only record 2.5 steals per game (best result in the Euroleague).

12. (11) Stambulo “Galatasaray” 1-1

Last week, Galatasay was ahead at the 29th minute of the game against Olympiacos, but Carlos Arroyo failed to deliver the win to Galatasaray fans. It seems that the Istanbul team’s results will depend on Arroyo’s performance throughout the season as the guard set the tone scoring 21 points in the opening game and led the team in most important moments against Montepaschi.

13. (15) Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius 1-1

Despite Lietuvos Rytas taking a lot of long range shots, it fails to fight for offensive rebounds and they are the worst Euroleague team in that area. Lietuvos Rytas lost the battle of rebounds in both weeks and in order to go throughout the next round, they definitely need to improve this aspect.

14. (13) Unicaja Malaga 1-1

Unicaja was the most mysterious Euroleague team at preseason stage and most of the questions remain unanswered. Malaga’s club seems to be a mid-level team, which is still a step behind the elite, but the upcoming games with Galatasaray and Bayern should reveal the real strength of Juan Plaza’s team.

15. (18) Budivelnik Kyiv 0-2

Even without a win after the first two rounds, Budivelnik is still a team with potential to play in Top 16. The Ukrainian team had to face two elite Euroleague clubs, Fenerbahce Ulker and CSKA, and they didn’t fail despite the two losses. Budivelnik was ahead at the 34th minute versus Fenerbahce Ulker and the 27th minute against CSKA, proving they can compete with the best.

16. (10) EA7 Emporio Armani Milan 1-1

Milan changes its name every season, but the results remain the disappointing same. EA7 Emporio Armani seems to have one of the best backcourts in Euroleague on paper, but the Italians were destroyed by Anadolu Efes and wasted an 18-point advantage against Zalgiris (still won the game).

17. (19) Partizan Belgrade 1-1

If a most improved player had to be selected today, Dragan Milosavljevic of Partizan would be among contenders to win this award. As Vladimir Lucic left Partizan this offseason, the 24-year-old Milosavljevic stepped up and became a true leader of the team, averaging 20.5 points (55 percent on three-pointers) and five boards per game.

18. (21) Crvena Zvezda Belgrade 0-2

Crvena Zvezda creates more problems for its opponents than was expected and the main man behind that is Boban Marjanovic. Despite playing against top big men in the league - Shawn James, Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Derrick Brown and others - the 7-foot-3 center averaged 15 points and 11.5 rebounds. Marjanovic is on his way to becoming a new star of Euroleague.

19. (16) Zalgiris Kaunas 0-2

Zalgiris is about to face their main competitors in the fight for Top 16, Strasbourg IG and Brose Baskets, but before that their new head coach has to find a way to fill the defensive gaps of Sarunas Jasikevicius. The opponents of Zalgiris score 34.2 points more per 100 possessions when the oldest Euroleague player is on the court.

20. (20) Brose Baskets Bamberg 1-1

In the first week game, Strasbourg IG’s Alexis Ajinca got into foul trouble, Brose Baskets had a 19-1 run and made a small step towards the Top 16. However, Bamberg’s defense hasn’t been reliable and that might be the main reason preventing Germans from having a long run in Euroleague.

21. (23) Strasbourg IG 0-2

Despite Strasbourg IG’s poor results, Alexis Ajinca has been one of the most valuable players in the Euroleague. Ajinca averaged 18.5 points and 5.0 rebounds in two games and now it’s clear that the French big man is worth a spot on the roster of a top Euroleague team, or maybe even a second chance in the NBA.

22. (17) Montepaschi Siena 0-2

Montepaschi’s effort to find a new Bobby Brown or Bo McCalebb hasn’t produced any results as the Italians lost both games and none of newcomers from America seem to have enough talent to take the lead. If the situation won’t change for Siena, Galatasaray and Bayern will leave Montepaschi behind in the race for the Top 16.

23. (22) JSF Nanterre 0-2

JSF Naterre made their name heard in its first game against CSKA but totally collapsed in week two versus Partizan. The French team scored only 43 points and two free throws. JSF Nanterre’s Sergiy Gladyr, who had a successful EuroBasket 2013, made only two field goals out of 14 and committed more turnovers (6) than scored points (5) in those two games.

24. (24) Stelmet Zielona Gora 0-2

As expected, Stelmet is this year’s Euroleague’s tourist, enjoying a chance to play against teams like Unicaja or Olympiacos. Stelmet’s defense has been terrible over its last two games, as they allowed their opponents to score 97.5 per game and forced opponents to commit just 7.5 turnovers. These are the worst results in the Euroleague and most likely Stelmet won’t feel the taste of victory this season.

Europe Interview: Mindaugas Kupsas

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.

Euroleague Power Rankings: Centers

Nikola Mirotic, Nenad Krstic, Erazem Lorbek, Ioannis Bourousis, Darjus Lavrinovic, Sofoklis Schorstanitis and David Andersen are amongst the best centers in Euroleague.

Euroleague Power Rankings: Power Forwards

Viktor Khryapa, Georgios Printezis, Felipe Reyes, Paulius Jankunas, Marcus Slaughter and Mike Batiste are amongst the best power forwards in Euroleague this season.

The Rise Of Zalgiris

Getting back to the roots of European hoops - slow-paced, efficient positional basketball has brought success to Zalgiris

Euroleague Power Rankings: Shooting Guards

The shooting guard position in Euroleague is headlined by Vassilis Spanoulis, Rudy Fernandez, Juan Carlos Navarro, Fernando San Emeterio, Jaycee Carroll and Keith Langford.

Preseason Euroleague Power Rankings

The 2012-13 Euroleague regular season will begin on October 19th and here are RealGM's preseason power rankings with CSKA, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Fenerbahce Ulker and Olympiacos comprising the top-five.

Americans Winning Titles In Europe

There were 107 American-born players who were on teams that won their league in Europe during the 11-12 season, most notably Montepasch Siena.

Top-5 Storylines Of Euroleague's Top-16 Stage

With 16 teams left, RealGM presents the Top Five storylines of Euroleague to keep an eye with teams like CSKA, Zalgiris, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Panathinaikos look to advance.

Euroleague Power Rankings Ahead Of Top-16 Stage

Barcelona, CSKA, Real Madrid, Panathinaikos and Montepaschi Siena headline our objective Euroleague Power Rankings.

Euroleague Round 9, Day 2

A big win for Montepaschi Siena over Barcelona, Sonny Weems and Zalgiris defeat Brose Baskets, Maccabi blows out Anadolu Efes and more from Euroleague RS Week 9.

Euroleague: Recapping CSKA Moscow Vs. Brose Baskets & Round 7's Top Performers

Round 7 of the Euroleague Regular Season featured a number of competitive games and some fantastic individual performances, but the game of the round featured a tightly contested battle between two powerhouse clubs from Russia and Germany.

RealGM Interview: Sonny Weems Of Zalgiris Kaunas

Sonny Weems was one of the best players to go to Europe without an NBA-out. The 7th best scorer in Euroleague explains why he picked Europe instead of China and discusses the Raptors.
 

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