Since he has one foot in each of two basketball-mad countries, it was predictable that the Fan Mail would pour in for Sarunas Jasikevicius. And pour it did, with almost 100 fans sending their questions to the Maccabi point guard who has been the most successful basketball player anywhere for the last year. With both Israel and his native Lithuania still talking weeks later about Maccabi's miracle qualification for the Final Four against his hometown team, Zalgiris, everyone wanted to know how that magical night felt for Jasikevicius. "After Derrick hit that shot, I was in a kind of shock that lasted for two days," Jasikevicius said. "I didn't know how to act or what to do. One minute I was happy for myself and my team, the next minute I was sad for my friends in Zalgiris. But this is basketball, this is sports and anything can happen."
Hey Saras ! I wish you great success in the Final Four and I want to ask you: How can you play the most difficult and important games so easy and well every time? What's your secret?
Vytautas Badaras, Lithuania
"First of all, I don't think I play all the difficult games well. Like anyone else, I have some bad ones and good ones. For example, in last year's Final Four I was not in such good form, and I hoped to have a better Final Four individiually. But we won and I didn't really care. So it's not true that I always play well in the important games, but I certainly try to."
As one of the top players of the Euroleage and one of the candidates for the all-Euroleague team, you must certainly be feeling the pressure that becomes stronger every day. How do you and the other players deal with everybody in Israel expecting you to win the Final Four?
Yours, Shachaf, Israel
"Well, there is nothing we can do. It's normal that people around Maccabi would be talking about the Final Four. But I think these are the same things that the other teams have to edeal with. In Siena, Bologna and Moscow, everyone is talking about winning the Final Four, and the coaches and players have their minds on it. I think you have to just let the team prepare without too many distractions. That is what Maccabi is doing now. We don't have too many people around us. They are tyring to keep it a close group among the players so that we can try to prepare like it was any other normal game."
Hello, Saras. Did your role in Maccabi change compared to playing in Barcelona?
A. Gutman, Israel
"Well, yes. I play more minutes here and I have more responsibility, I think. Last year, we had a new coach in Barcelona and he brought in two great players in Fucka and Bodiroga. He sort of had to trust them, as they were his signings, and rightfully so, he did, and these two great players along with the other players on the team really delivered. I think that this year I play more minutes and have more responsibility, but it doesn't mean that any other players on our team cannot take responsibility as I do. We have a lot of players capable of taking responsibility."
Hi Saras. What were your thinking during the last Top 16 game, and more precisely just before the two last seconds? Also, if it's not too personal, what was your discussion with the great and amazing Sabonis at the end of the game? Thank you and good luck.
"I kind of thought that the game was over. I thought we lost the game, because it was very difficult to imagine us pulling the game out, and fortunately for us, we did. After Derrick hit that shot, I was in a kind of shock that lasted for two days. I didn't know how to act or what to do. One minute I was happy for myself and my team, the next minute I was sad for my friends in Zalgiris. But this is basketball, this is sports and anything can happen. As far as what I said to Sabonis, you just sort of want to say somethng to him at that moment, but there was not so much to say. I wanted to say so much, but the words don't come out easily at such a time."
Hello, Saras. My question is: How did it feel for you to knock out a team from your country? It reminded many people in Israel of Oded Katash's game playing for Panathinaikos against Maccabi at the 2000 Final Four.
"First of all, when Oded had that great game against Maccabi, it was the championship game. So far, no championship has been won here. I agree it was an important game, but you know it was not the championship game like he had, that meant a title for Panathiniakos. It's a professional thing. You try to do professional work as much as you can. My job is to play for Maccabi, but it's true there are mixed emotions all the times that I play against Zalgiris, because it's my hometown team. But you try to do your job the best way possible."
Hello, Sarunas. How do you like playing in Maccabi this year? How is the atmosphere? Do you have plans to stay in Maccabi next season? Have a great Final Four and thank you for many great moments this season.
"It's been very special to play for Maccabi. It's probably an experience that not many European teams can have, playing in the eyes of the whole country. With all the Maccabi fans here in Israel, it's a special feeling all the time. The atmosphere is amazing, even on the streets. People live with Maccabi, suffer with Maccabi. It's an amazing, unique situation, somthing similar to Zalgiris in Lithuania. As far as next year, I don't know what is going to happen. I wouldn't mind staying, but we'll see."
Hello, Saras. I am a Maccabi fan and a big fan of yours. I would like to know what are the differences between Maccabi this season and Barcelona last season? If the two teams were to meet today, who would win? Regards,
"You never know who would win, first of all, but it would be a good game. As far as playing styles, they are two different styles. I think that offensively Maccabi is much better than last year's Barcelona team. But defensively the Barcelona of last year was better. Also the way the defense works is different. Here we play more zones. Offensively, I think Maccabi has a lot more movement in the offense. Last year at Barcelona, in the key moments, it was clear who we were going to, Bodiroga and Fucka, two great players who delivered for us in crunch time. Maccabi has a more motion-oriented system. You cannot argue with success, and both teams have had success and are coached by two great coaches. The goal of winning is the same. Last year with Barcelona, we did it and hopefully we can do it this year, too."
Hello Sarunas! What do you think about hosting the Final Four in Nokia Arena? Is it good or bad for Maccabi? By the way, I'm a great fan of yours since the European Championships in Sweden last summer. You had a great championship. Waiting for answer,
Aviv Ben Israel, Israel
"It can be good or bad. You can say it's great to play at home or a lot of pressure to play there. You really don't know which way it's going to work. I know that I prefer to play at home rather than Moscow, Siena or Bologna. I don't know how it will work out, but I prefer to be here."
Hey Saras! I love your game and all the emotions you bring into it. My question is: Do you think the fact that CSKA already managed to come back from a 19-point deficit in Yad Eliyahu to beat Maccabi will have an effect during the semifinal game? Good luck, and make Europe yellow for us!
"No, I don't think that what happened in the past will have too much of an effect. These are two very good teams with two very good coaches who will prepare differently for this, looking back at the other games, of course, at what worked and what didn't. I think both teams understand they can beat each other. We won there, they won here. Both understand they can take the game and will prepare with maximum intensity and concentration. We'll see what happened on Thursday night."
Hi Saras. Could you tell about your decision to come to Maccabi and the reasons that made you sign there? Also what do you think about the atmosphere at Nokia Arena as compared to other places? Thanks,
"When I figured out that I couldn't continue in Barcelona, I was looking for teams that gave me a chance to win some things this year. When I look at Maccabi, I saw it had a very good situation. It had all the great local Israeli players. They had managed to re-sign Nikola Vujcic, added Maceo Baston and brought back Anthony Parker. You could just tell the team was going to be good. It was one of those situations where you kind of have a clue the team has a chance to do something. And, obviously, they were looking for a point guard. That was the basketball stuff, but historically Maccabi has been such a great team in Europe with such big history behind it, so that was also a big factor. As for the atmosphere at Nokia, it's really amazing. People love Maccabi, and as I said before, they suffer with us both the positive and the negatie. They enjoy basketball here, and I must admit that the fans here truly know the game. They appreciate the team game and understand that it's not a case of only looking at points. So you appreciate the crowd for that, too."
Hello, Sarunas!. Why were you so good in all games against Zalgiris? Was it because Zalgiris is a team from your native country and you had more motivation than any other player to show your best? Good luck in the Final Four.
Vaida Kielyte - Kaunas, Lithuania
"I must admit it's always a special game for me. Normally, I have friends there. I know the coaches and the staff, who also work for the national team. It's sort of a little added motivation, yes. But at the same time, as I said before, I am just trying to do as good of a professional job as I can. I don't prepare for them in any sepcial way, however. I'm just tyring to do my job the best way possible."
Hi Saras! This year Maccabi beat CSKA, Skipper and Zalgiris on the last shot. How do you explain it? Thanks,
Yair, Tel Aviv
"First of all, you must look at the fact that we also lost to Ulker in the last second and to CSKA in the last minutes after winnning by 19. Everything sort of equals out. I don't know how to explain it, but we have some players who can step up in crunch time. Hopefully, it can continue, but at the same time you cannot really expect it to continue. I've seen some crazy endings both bad and good."