The first Fan Mail of the Top 16 produced an near-record outpouring of correspondence for a player who has not only made his mark on Euroleague basketball history, but has clearly bonded with fans everywhere. The one and only Sarunas Jasikevicius of Panathinaikos, one of only five active players among 35 selected last season as the best in the first half-century of European club basketball, answered Fan Mail that arrived from far and wide last week in numbers not seen since another Lithuanian great, Arvydas Sabonis, was a guest. Jasikevicius answered you in much the same way he plays basketball, too: with his emotions visible, his heart on his sleeve and honesty to spare. "Saras" talked about his favorite memories, his future considerations and the fierce urgency of now for someone so competitive as he is, on a club, Panathinaikos, that matches his will to greatness. "Look, we've been very inconsistent," Jasikevicius said. "We play good basketball, but we don't shoot well and we have too many turnovers a lot. If we fix those things, we can battle with the best teams. We have talent. We've lacked a little motivation, but that won't be a problem in the Top 16.
Hello Sarunas. Is it more difficult to find a steady role in a team with such a big roster as Panathinaikos? Thank you,
Stelios Vourakis - Greece
"Yes, at times it's very difficult to find the rhythm. This is our advantage, as you know, having 12 players and lots of rotations and keeping bodies fresh. I can even imagine this system making my career longer, because it's not so taxing on my body and Coach Obradovic protects my minutes, knowing that I and other guys play year-round with our summer commitments to national teams and stuff like that. But at the same time, it can be a disadvantage. One game you start, one you don't, or you're in the game more one time, less the next. If you are not playing well from the beginning, someone can take your spot. This is a disadvantage for me, personally, because it almost feels like you don't have time to really enter the game and get involved in it sometimes."
Hello Saras. I want ask you a simple question. Where would you like to end your incredible career?
"My dream is to end my career with the Lithuanian national team jersey. This, for me, is the most important team in my life. I have been very lucky to play for Panathinaikos, Barcelona and Maccabi, and each will always hold a special place in my heart, Barcelona and Maccabi maybe more so right now because I haven't yet had European success with Panathinaikos, although I hope that will change this year. But I am very happy here at PAO. People really go out of their way to make me comfortable. They want me to be happy in Athens, and as a player, I have a lot of appreciation for that."
Saras, I really want to know: Do you miss your days in Tel Aviv? In that period of time, it seems to me that I and all fans in Israel observed basketball as an art. And you conducted the orchestra. Thanks,
Uri Levy - Israel
"Yes, I really do. This was the best time in my life, basketball-wise, and maybe even in my personal life. Obviously, our achievements speak for themselves, as far as what we won and the beautiful way of playing. But what I really remember most are our trips and bus rides: six or seven guys in the back of the bus talking randomly about whatever topics, not just basketball: relationships, marriages, whatever. There were seven or eight of us back there babbling like women for two hours at a time. You don't find groups of men doing that. We had long dinners together with our wives and girlfriends, too. We were really close. It was perfect. So, yes, I miss those days, but I'm also very conscious of how hard it is to put teams together like that one, and I really believe I will not experience this anymore in my career."
Hi, Saras. What is your biggest achievement with the national team and at the club level in your long basketball career? All the best,
Alex - Nicosia, Cyprus
"At the club level, there's nothing better than winning the Euroleague, and on the national team, nothing better than winning the bronze at the Olympics or the gold in the European championships. The biggest thing for me is playing for the national team. I love my country and playing for the people there. I'm absolutely crazy about them. There is nothing better than playing preparation or exhibition games for the Olympics or whatever in gyms around Lithuania with 5,000 crazy people loving every minute of it. That's what I'll miss the most."
Hello Sarunas! I am a fan of Panathinaikos and a big fan of you and I also play on the Greek national team for men under 19. Where do you find your imagination to give such unbelievable passes? I try to use your style in my games!
Akis Kondylis - Greece
"It's in the good genes, probably. Both my parents were athletes. But I also watch a lot of videos, whether my own or those of Magic Johnson, John Stockton, people like that. I try to do some things that they did. In the end, I think I am blessed with some talent to play this game, no question, but certain things come to you naturally and others come from learning the game and watching how others play it."
Hi Saras. Are you thinking of joining the Lithuania national team for the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Turkey? I hope so, because you have so many fans like me in Turkey waiting to see you. Thank you and good luck.
Betul Tancagi - Turkey
"I'm not thinking about it, to be honest, I'm not thinking about the summer of 2009 yet, so I'm not going to think about 2010 now, either. The thing with the national team is, you know, all my brothers-in-arms are leaving. The players of my generation who've been with me on the team most of the last 10 years have announced their retirement or might. It's just like, in a lot of ways, the decision is kind of being made for me far as the national team, although it will be the hardest decision in my career, to let go of playing for my country."
Hello, Sarunas, from Lithuania. Do you think Panathinaikos is now strong enough to win the Euroleague this year?
Mindaugas Noreika - Lithuania
"Look, we've been very inconsistent. We play good basketball, but we don't shoot well and we have too many turnovers a lot. If we fix those things, we can battle with the best teams. We have talent. We've lacked a little motivation, but that won't be a problem in the Top 16. The best thing is that our players are internationally known and respect, but they all play for their countries and don't rest in the summer, and sometimes it's difficult playing year-round at your best. Now come the tough games, though, and I like our team's chances, I really do. We must change some things and we have to continue with our good attitude on defense. We can't turn the ball over so much and we must make some shots in key moments. We're able to get good looks at the basket, but a lot of times, we're not making the shots. If we do that, we can fight with anybody."
Hello Saras, I want to ask you which game on the Lithuanian national team was most momentous to you?
Erlandas Paplauskas - Lithuania
"I always said there are bad memories and good memories. There's nothing better than the final when we won the European championships in Stockholm or our third-place bronze medal in the Sydney Olympics. There was nothing worse than the semifinals at the Athens Olympics and the 1999 European quarterfinal we lost in Paris. In basketball these days, it's difficult to win all the time, because so many countries are good. I am just glad that in my time we had some success."
Hello, Saras. I hope you are well, and hopefully Panathinaikos will do great in the Top 16. Do you have some tips that a basketball player needs to follow on game day? Greetings,
"I don't believe in preparing on game day as much as I do in the days leading up to the game. You just have to work more than the next guy. Obviously, talent is important, but you just have to work more than the person next to you to do something for the team. If you only do it for yourself, it's not as important. The best player is always the one who makes the team better. I get more pleasure from a good pass than from scoring a basket."
Dear Mr. Jasikevicius, after your prosperous career playing in Europe and the USA, could you describe your feelings playing in small team like Olimpija Ljubljana as opposed to giant ones like Panathinaikos or your NBA teams? Kind regards,
Mitja Krizan - Ljubljana, Slovenia
"I have been lucky to be surrounded with very good teammates, really. It's been one of the reasons for the success we had, just what good teammates we had, good people and so on. It's a little different playing in a place like Ljubljana, of course. There are not high expectations on a European level. Your team's always the underdog. You're not the hunted: you're hunting. That's what we wanted to do, hunt down and surprise big teams. That was at the beginning of my career and I couldn't have been more lucky than to be with Coach Sagadin, who is one of the best at developing young players. It was nice, but in general organizations are different, as you suggest. They do things their way according to the country. In some countries, it's easier to find some things, and in others, it's easier to find other things."