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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.

Preseason Euroleague Power Rankings

The 2012-13 Euroleague regular season will begin on October 19th and here are RealGM's preseason power rankings.

1. CSKA Moscow (Russia)

The absence of Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved will definitely be felt, but the return of head coach Ettore Messina and the acquisition of one of the best Euroleague rookies of 2011-12 season, Sonny Weems, maintains CSKA as the most talented team in Euroleague. Also, it's going to be the second season in Russia for Serbians Milos Teodosic and Nenad Krstic, who together with Weems should lead CSKA to the Final Four.

2. FC Barcelona Regal (Spain)

FC Barcelona Regal clearly suffered some serious losses this offseason as one of the most versatile Euroleague players, Chuck Eidson, left for Unics and two big men moved south to Unicaja Malaga. Barcelona didn’t shock the market by making huge signings, but that’s what their front office usually does. The Catalonians managed to re-sign RealGM’s last season’s All-Euroleague 1st Team member Erazem Lorbek, who together with elite point guard Marcelinho Huertas, healthy Juan Carlos Navarro and Olympic surprise Joe Ingles might help FC Barcelona Regal make another Final Four appearance.

3. Real Madrid (Spain)

Real’s time has finally come. It has been 18 years since Real won its last Euroleague title and this year Pablo Laso’s team has the best chance they have had in years. This season’s Real is very versatile, having the pieces to go all the way to the top. They are both young and experienced, explosive and dangerous, which by adding Rudy Fernandez this offseason might become unstoppable in every league they’ll compete in the 12-13 season.

4. Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul (Turkey)

It seems that Montepaschi Siena was relocated to Turkey and that’s good news for Fenerbahce Ulker fans. Fenerbahce Ulker managers opened their pockets to bring former Montepaschi players David Andersen, Romain Sato, Bo McCalebb and coach Simone Pianigiani. These pieces have experience together, therefore Fenerbahce Ulker should find a winning path straight away. Everybody in Europe knows that McCalebb, who signed a three-year deal with the Turkish team, is a game changer and a Euroleague Final Four is probably not so far away for Fenerbahce Ulker.

5. Olympiacos Piraeus (Greece)

After a stunning performance in last season’s Final Four, current Euroleague champion Olympiacos is no longer an underdog. Every team will treat Olympiacos as a champion and the expectations for the Greeks will be sky high. Despite the departure of head coach Dusan Ivkovic, Olympiacos managed to maintain the core of the team and especially the key Greek players from the last season  - Vassilis Spanoulis, Georgios Printezis, Kostas Papanikolaou, and American Kyle Hines.

6. Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel)

Maccabi is clearly not the same dominant team as it was in 2004 or 2005, but they are one of only few who remained elite for years and are always among top candidates to claim the title. Before the start of the season, Maccabi doesn’t seem to be at the same line with Europe’s best (CSKA and FC Barcelona Regal), but David Blatt and his players are capable of beating the odds and making a long run in this year’s Euroleague.

7. Unicaja Malaga (Spain)

Unicaja has been struggling for years in the Euroleague tournament but there are signs that the dark days for Malaga basketball might be over. Unicaja, which won only five out of 24 games in the Top 16 in last four years, had to say goodbye to its team face Joel Freeland and 11 other players and build a new team from the ground up. Luka Zoric, Fran Vazquez and Kosta Perovic will form one of the best frontcourts in the league, which will be the key strength of Unicaja.

8. Montepaschi Siena (Italy)

Life after Bo McCalebb won’t be easy and Montepaschi is about to experience that. Montepaschi completely changed its team by almost completely turning over its roster and starting a new page. Montepaschi managers had to say goodbye to Siena’s biggest stars and its leader McCalebb, who had been Montepaschi’s key player since 2010. As other teams’ experience shows, it takes years to build a winning Euroleague team, therefore patience might be an essential thing for this year’s Montepaschi.

9. EA7 Emporio Armani Milano (Italy)

After years of disappointments, EA7 Emporio Armani was finally very close to making the Top 8 last season and this year’s team looks even more impressive. It seems the managers of Olimpia Milano did their best on bringing an elite player, such as Keith Langford, and missing pieces like Gianluca Basile and Richard Hendrix. EA7 Emporio Armani hasn’t looked this strong for many years and this might be the best chance for Sergio Scariolo and his guys to break their team's curse of Euroleague.

10. Panathinaikos Athens (Greece)

The post-Obradovic era begins. Nine new players and more to come as Panathinaikos was completely rebuilt this offseason. The wind of changes came when eight-time Euroleague champion Zeljko Obradovic, who coached Panathinaikos since 1999, stepped down and 11 players left the team as well. One of two players who stayed in Athens, Dimitris Diamantidis and new coach Argyris Pedoulakis is in a very difficult position as it might take more than a season to build a strong relationship between players and bring Panathinaikos back on the winning path.

11. Caja Laboral Vitoria (Spain)

The biggest upset of the last season, Caja Laboral do not have any reasons to be very optimistic about this year as well. Two key players, Euroleague leading points per game scorer Mirza Teletovic and team assist leadser Pablo Prigioni left the Spanish organization for the NBA and Caja Laboral struggles to find a proper replacement. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see group C’s Caja Laboral missing Top 16 for the second straight season.

12. Zalgiris Kaunas (Lithuania)

Similar to last season, Zalgiris formed a solid roster for the Euroleague tournament and seems to be a Top 8 team on paper. But Zalgiris fans know the best that it's way too early to celebrate and there's nothing to be excited about before the Top 16 starts. Statistics don't lie: over the last nine years, Zalgiris won only seven and lost 35 games in the Top 16 stage. Despite how good Zalgiris' roster seemed to be, Kaunas won just four matches in Top 16 since 2004 and holds an awful 4-32 record.

13. Khimki Moscow region

Eurocup winner Khimki formed its team the earliest among all Euroleague clubs and signed all players even before the beginning of the summer. Khimki didn’t spend as much money as they did in the past, but Rimas Kurtinaitis’ team should repeat their success in 2009-10 and make it out of the group with the talent they have.

14. Anadolu Efes Istanbul

‘Born to lose’ are the first three words, which came to my mind when I hear the name Anadolu Efes Istanbul. It didn’t matter how many top European players Istanbul had on its roster, they have always failed to meet expectations. The main reason is that chemistry is something money can’t buy. However, Anadolu Efes will have another shot to make a long run this season, as they’ll have future MVP candidate Jordan Farmar on their side and many other individually great players. As always.

15. Besiktas Istanbul (Turkey)

No doubt, last season was amazing for Besiktas and their fans as Istanbul club won three titles - Turkish league, Turkish Cup and EuroChallenge (the third best European competition). It was simply the gold age for the Turkish team, but this year’s Besiktas will be different as day and night. The whole starting five left the club and that doesn’t mean anything good for Besiktas.

16. Cedevita Zagreb (Croatia)

It’s not a secret that the last two seasons weren’t the best for Croatian basketball, but it seems Cedevita is here to change the things. Definitely, Cedevita wasn’t the luckiest club on the Euroleague draw day as they would probably like to be anywhere but in group C. However, the Croatian team’s managers did nice work this offseason by building a versatile team with few well-known names, who are good enough to shake things up make a mess in group C.

17. Brose Baskets Bamberg (Germany)

Brose Baskets proved that German basketball can compete with the Europe’s best clubs and last season was just one step away from making to the Top 16. During the offseason, Brose Baskets lost some very important pieces and is going to be quite a challenge for Chris Fleming to build a winning team with the guys he has now.

18. Partizan Belgrade (Serbia)

As usual, Partizan will be a team to watch this season. The Serbian club will have many well-known talents on its roster. Davis Bertans, Dejan Musli, Leo Westermann, Bogdan Bogdanovic have proved themselves in youth tournaments and now it’s time to demonstrate their capabilities on the big scene. Moreover, coach Dusko Vujosevic, who led Partizan to the Final four in 09-10, is back in Belgrade. The 24-year-old Marko Cakarevic is currently the oldest player on the team, but it is surely going to be fun to watch how talented and hungry Partizan will try to find its way out of the group D.

19. Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius (Lithuania)

One of the two best Lithuanian teams, Lietuvos Rytas is known for signing less-known players and making the most out of them. This season is going to be a no exception as Lietuvos Rytas lost its biggest star, Jonas Valanciunas, and didn't add any elite players to its squad. Even with the roster as it is now, Lietuvos Rytas, is capable of making it out of the group but might lack talent to shake things up in the Top 16.

20. Alba Berlin (Germany)

It’s been a while since Alba won its last title and it seems the hype from making to the Euroleague Top 16 in 08-09 disappeared. Even after being  awful last season, Alba got a chance to play in the Euroleague, where their chances are really limited. Nevertheless, everything is possible in group B for Alba, especially with the support they’ll have at home games.

21. Elan Chalon (France)

French teams has always been like tourists in the Euroleague and Elan Chalon will probably be no exception. On the other hand, Elan Chalon made one of the most interesting signings this offseason in six-year NBA veteran Shelden Williams. Of course, it would be a no-braner to believe Williams could carry Elan Chalon on his back to the Top 16 stage, but he could make some serious problems for group D underdogs, Asseco Prokom and Alba.

22. Asseco Prokom Gdynia (Poland)

The previous two seasons were horrible for Asseco Prokom and it seems that the Polish team is heading for a third one. New head coach Kestutis Kemzuras will have a very difficult task to build a winning team from very average players. Also, Asseco Prokom will be missing its biggest star, Donatas Motiejunas, who moved to Houston Rockets, and for now, there’s no such player, who could replace Motiejunas and become a leader of the team.

23. Union Olimpija Ljubljana (Slovenia)

Last season’s worst team, Union Olimpija, didn’t do much this offseason to avoid the same situation this year. Ljubljana’s team lost all its best players and the new additions look more like a lottery than a promising future. It seems that Union Olimpija don’t have financial problems anymore and that might be club’s biggest victory of the offseason.

Americans Winning Titles In Europe

As all European basketball leagues have ended their 2011-12 season, RealGM has traditionally checked in on how many American players were crowned as champions this year.

RealGM has counted that just like in the 2010-11 season, 107 players from the U.S. became champions in 45 European national leagues this season.

Belgium champions BC Oostende, the winners of Czech Republic championship CEZ Nymburk, French champions Elan Shalon, Italian league winners Montepasch Siena and Portuguese champions Benfica were ‘the most American’ champion teams with five players from the U.S. on their roster in 2011-12.

In contrast, SK Tirana (Albania), Gala BC Baku (Azerbaijan), Zalgiris Kaunas (Lithuania), Athleta (Malta), UASM (Moldova) and Edinburgh Kings (Scotland) won titles without American players on their rosters.

RealGM presents the European national leagues champions list, where you can find all 107 players names (top-five European national competitions are bolded).

Country

Champion team

American players

Albania

SK Tirana

No American players

Austria

Xion Dukes Klosterneuburg

Curtis Bobb (Utah State)

Jason Chappell (Wisconnsin)

Azerbaijan

Gala BC Baku

No American players

Belarus

Minsk 2006

Bobby Maze (Tennessee

Justin Knox (North Carolina)

Belgium

BC Oostende

Dwight Buycks (Marquette)

Matthew Lojeski (Hawaii)

Kennedy Winston (Alabama)

Christopher Booker (Purdue)

Brent Wright (Florida)

Bosnia

Siroki WWin

Coleman Collins (Virginia Tech)

Bulgaria

Lukoil Academik

Lamont Mach (Angelina College)

Brandon Heath (San Diego State)

Andre Owens (Indiana)

Croatia

Cibona Zagreb

Khalid El-Amin (Connecticut)

Zack Wright (Arkansas-Little Rock)

Antwain Barbour (Kentucky)

Czech Republic

CEZ Nymburk

Chester Simmons (Washington)

A. J. Abrams (Texas)

Lamayne Wilson (Troy State)

Andrew Naymick (Michigan State)

Eugene Lawrence (St. John’s)

Denmark

Bakken Bears

Joshua Alexander (Stephen F. Austin)

Estonia

BC Kalev/Cramo

Anthony Nelson (Niagara)

Finland

Nilan Bisons

Jeb Ivey (Portland State)

Martin Zeno(Texas Tech)

Clifton Jones (Oregon State)

Michael Nunnally (Pacific)

France

Elan Shalon

Malcolm Delaney (Virginia Tech)

Blake Schilb (Loyola)

Bryant Smith (Auburn)

LaQuan Prowell (Auburn)

Alade Aminu (Georgia Tech)

Georgia

Armia

William Thomas (George Mason)

Jeremy Richardson (Delta State)

Ben Woodside (North Dakota State)

Germany

Brose Baskets

Casey Jacobsen (Stanford)

Brian Roberts (Dayton)

Julius Jenkins (Georgia Southern)

P. J. Tucker (Texas)

Greece 

Olympiacos Piraeus

Acie Law (Texas A&M)

Kyle Hines (NC Greensboro)

Joey Dorsey (Memphis)

Holland

Eiffeltowers Den Bosch

Tai Wesley (Utah State)

Frank Turner (Canisius)

David Gonzalvez (Richmond)

Hungary

Falco KC Szombathely

Chad Timberlake (Fair Dickinson)

Iceland

UMF Grindavik

J'Nathan Bullock (Cleveland State)

Giordon Watson (Central Michigan)

Ryan Pettinella (Virginia)

Ireland

UL Eagles

Robert Taylor (Rider)

Matthew Hall (Earlham)

Joey Lynch-Flohr (Radford)

Israel

Maccabi Tel Aviv

Keith Langford (Kentucky)

Devin Smith (Virginia)

Shawn James (Duquesne)

Richard Hendrix (Alabama)

Italy

Montepaschi Siena

Bo McCalebb (New Orleans)

Malik Hairston (Oregon)

Shaun Stonerook (Ohio State)

Bootsy Thornton (St. John's)

David Moss (Indiana State)

Kosovo

Trepca

Jaleel Nelson (Chowan)

Latvia

VEF Riga

Tyler Cain (South Dakota)

Curtis Millage (Arizona State)

Maurice Bailey (Sacred Heart)

Lithuania

Zalgiris Kaunas

No American players

Luxembourg

Sparta Bertrange

Larrie Smith (Tennessee Tech)

Kasey Ulin (Dickinson State)

Ezenwa Ukeagu (Washington State)

Macedonia

KK MZT Skopje

Noah Dahlman (Wofford)

Cade Davis (Oklahoma)

Malta

Athleta          

No American players

Moldova

UASM

No American players

Montenegro

Buducnost

Matt Bouldin (Gonzaga)

Norway

Froya Basket

Peter Bullock (Alaska - Anchorage)

Poland

Asseco Prokom

Quinton Day (UMKC)

Michael Kuebler (Hawaii)

Jerel Blassingame (UNLV)

Portugal

Benfica

Seth Doliboa (Wright State)

Heshimu Evans (Kentucky)

Ted Scott (West Virginia State)

Frederick Gentry (McNeese State)

Marcus Norris (Ball State)

Romania

CSU Asesoft

Darius Hargrove (Virginia Union)

Russia

CSKA Moscow

Jamont Gordon (Mississippi State)

Scotland

Edinburgh Kings

No American players

Serbia

Partizan

Dominic James (Marquette)

Slovakia

Prievidza

David Godbold (Oklahoma)

Corey Pelle (West Liberty)

Bobby Davis (Edinboro)

Nick Livas (Illinois-Springfield)

Slovenia

Krka

Mustafa Abdul-Hamid (UCLA)

Spain

FC Barcelona Regal

Pete Mickeal (Cincinnati)

Chuck Eidson (South Carolina)

Sweden

Norrkoping Dolphins

Andrew Mitchell (Kent State)

Fred Drains (Kean)

Randall Hanke (Providence)

Gordon Watt (Houston Baptist)

Switzerland

Lugano Tigers

Mohammed Abukar (San Diego State)

Edwin Draughan (Yale)

Derek Stockalper (Cal Poly)

Rob Brown (Western Michigan)

Turkey

Besiktas

Marcelus Kemp (Nevada)

David Hawkins (Temple)

Erwin Dudley (Alabama)

Ukraine

BC Donetsk

Ramel Curry (CSU Bakersfield)

Michael Lee (St. Bonaventure)

Darnell Jackson (Kansas)

United Kingdom

Newcastle Eagles

Fabulous Flournoy (McNeese State)

Joe Chapman (Marquette)

Charles Smith (Rider)

Paul Gause (Seton Hall)

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After a few unsuccessful attempts to return to the NBA, Sean May turned his career to overseas. Now the 27-year-old big man is playing in Croatia, KK Zagreb club, where he is having a career year.

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Even though Besikitas signed Deron Williams, the favorite remains the perennially excellent Fenerbache Ulker.
 

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