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.