The way he runs the floor with his blonde hair flopping around his eyes makes you wonder how he can see to shoot. Of course, Tau Ceramica ace Arvydas Macijauskas not only shoots, but does so as well as perhaps any player in the world. Since Macijauskas was named the Euroleague MVP for March, he has gone on to help lead Tau to its first-ever Final Four after a sweep in the playoffs. In just his second Euroleague season, Tau's success in the last month has confirmed Macijauskas as a superstar. As he says in the Euroleague.net interview, however, Macijauskas considers himself a changed player from the one who arrived in Vitoria, Spain just 18 months ago. "This year, my game is totally different," Macijauskas told Euroleague.net. "Now, I understand basketball better." That's bad news for his opponents, including CSKA, to whom Macijuaskas and Tau have lost four times over the last two seasons. "CSKA is a good team, but ours is a good team, too," Macijauskas said. "We're not scared. If you are scared at a Final Four, it's better not to go."
First of all, congratulations on being named the Euroleague MVP for March. Second, after having won a European title and played at the Olympics with Lithuania, tell us how you feel personally now to be going to a Euroleague Final Four for the first time?
"This is a great, great, great feeling for me, but also for my team and my team's fans. Every year in the Euroleague there are better and better teams, the league is getting stronger and stronger. Before the season starts, it's so difficult to say who will make the Final Four because everyone is so strong. For me, it's just a great feeling to be going to Moscow and going there to fight. Last year, we were pretty close, until CSKA beat us in Moscow. We had to get that game, and we didn't, so they went to the Final Four instead. But this year, our dream our dream is still going strong."
Tau got into the Top 16 on a tiebreaker point difference and into the Quarterfinal Playoffs the same way. After all that, are you at all surprised to reach the Final Four?
"No, I'm not surprised. At the start of the season, we didn't play very good in the Spanish League or the Euroleague. In particular, in the regular season of the Euroleague we didn't look so good. As you said, we finished fifth in the group and won a tiebreaker with Unicaja on points. But after that we started playing better and better, both on offense and defense, every day better and better. We improved a lot, in the Top 16 and in the playoffs against Benetton, and now we're looking good, so I can't say I am surprised to be going to the Final Four."
The key to the quarterfinals was the first game in which Tau beat Benetton in Treviso by 39 points. Did you find that as unexpected as many people watching?
"We woud never have expected anything like that. It's difficult to win like that, almost 40 points, in regular season game against even the worst team. But we played really good that night. We had great defense, we prepared the game well, made a lot of shots, and Benetton didn't play well. Our defense broke all their systems. Of course that was surprising, but even after winning by 40 we knew that it was not going be same against such a good team that we had lost twice against before, with such a great coach. And it wasn't easy to win the second game, but we made it."
I think many people are wondering how such a great performance like that happens? You mentioned game preparation, but Tau obviously went into the game very confident, too.
"If you want to go to the Final Four, you have to have confidence, confidence to fight for every board and every possession. But, of course, it's never easy to do that against such good teams as Benetton, but having the confidence helps."
Last year, in your first Euroleague season, your scoring and other stats went down in the Top 16. This year they went up a lot. Did you do anything different or learn something from the experience last year?
"This year, my game is totally different. Now I understand basketball better from another side. My coach has helped me a lot. Last year, I just touched the ball and tried to score 30 points. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn't. This year, I am trying to pass better, make more steals, play defense. My coach told me that when you score a lot, you get to the Top 16 and other teams are going to guard you much tougher, so you must know how to pass the ball. He said all Euroleague teams have good players, and everyone can score. So i learned how to pass the ball good, how to read the game better. Last year, everyone tried to stop me, and if they did, I llost my mind and played crazy. Not anymore."
Comparing this season to last again, you were new to the Euroleague then, but now everybody knows you as an international star. Is it more difficult to score now that every defender knows you?
"Of course. If you play against good basketball teams, they are almost always good defensive teams and it gets harder and harder to score. But not only for Macijauskas is it difficult to score. It's that way for everyone. This is a team game, however, and the team wins, not just one, two or three guys. You win games and titles if the team plays good, if eight, nine or 10 guys together trust each other and know how to play together. If two or three of them have a bad day, it's still difficult to beat them, because this is a team."
Tau Ceramica has the reputation of never giving up and having its own style under coach Dusko Ivanovic. After two seasons there, how can you describe that Tau style?
"The first year, coming here was not easy for me. It was the first time leaving my country, going to a big team in another country with a tough coach. This year is better because now I understand the coach more. This team works hard, and works hard every day. If you want to win something, all players have to have the same mind like the coach. If you work hard everyday, for sure you are going to win something. Plus we do good physical work, and I think it's true that we are in good shape."
Seeing you and Ramunas Siskauskas together on the same court was a reminder that Lietuvos Rytas is playing the ULEB Cup Final. Do you two talk about the chance of your old team coming to the Euroleague if it wins the final?
"With Siskauskas, we are friends after four years on Lietuvos Rytas and the national team together. But we didn't talk too much about Rytas. It was more about how he's doing in Treviso, and me in Vitoria. We talked about teams and coaches, the things old friends who are players think about that. Of course, we both want Rytas to win the ULEB Cup and go to the Euroleague, but when we saw each other, we didn't talk about that. He just wanted Treviso to win and go to the Final Four, same as me with Tau. But since you ask, I do think Lietuvos Rytas will win and make it."
Let's look ahead to the Final Four and your semifinal opponent, CSKA. Tau has lost 4 times in the last two seasons to CSKA by a total of 14 points. Last year the came back in the last minute and knocked you out of the Final Four. Will you go to Moscow with revenge on your mind?
"Of course. In two years against them, we never lost by a big score. CSKA is a good team, but ours is a good team, too. We're not scared. If you are scared at a Final Four, it's better not to go. We will go to fight and try to win. Yes, we've lost to them four times in two years, but it means nothing. It also means nothing that they are at home, and everybody thinks they will win. We go without pressure to play the best basketball we can."
One last question, from now until you go to Moscow is almost a month. Will it be difficult to wait or are you thankful to have the chance to rest some before and arrive totally ready?
"I would prefer to play next week. But we'll play after a month. Our team now is in good shape. One month is a long time. But we have good games in the Spanish League to play and that will help us. You can look at it either way, but we'll see what happens in the end. You cannot change it. You can just practice hard, play all the ACB games well and prepare the game against CSKA to be ready as you can."