|He had plenty to do with his team reaching the Euroleague, and deserves credit now for it being the hottest team in the competition. Even so, you will not catch center Robertas Javtokas of Lietuvos Rytas taking any bows. Javtokas, MVP of last season's ULEB Cup Final and protagonist in his team's current seven-game Euroleague win streak, is the first to say, as he does in this Euroleague.net interview, that Lietuvos Rytas has no stars. Three years after the motorcycle accident that almost cut short his career, Javtokas is mature beyond his age, 25. "I don't want to remember too much and I don't want to forget," Javtokas told Euroleague.net. "It happened and was a part of my life. I am happy that I'm still playing...I respect the game more now, for sure. I know that it's real easy to lose everything."
Last year at the ULEB Cup Final we saw how much Lietuvos Rytas wanted to join the Euroleague, but nobody thought you guys would take over once you got here. Did any of you expect to be Group B leaders at this stage of the season?
"I don't think anyone expected it, not us and not anyone. I also didn't think we would get beat by everybody we played. I remember thinking that we should just come to the Euroleague and play as good as possible and don't be losers. Of course, after losing the first two games, we might have thought the league was maybe too strong for us. But our coach still believed in us and put it in our heads that we were better than that and would do better. So we believed and kept playing and here we are."
After losing those first two, you have a seven-game wining streak after beating every team in perhaps the Euroleague's toughest group. Lietuvos Rytas obviously wasn't as bad as the first two games, so are you as good as what we see now?
"I think, of course, that maybe there is a game in there that we won just because we were on a roll and nobody could stop us with all the emotion and everything we are playing with. Those first two games, it was all brand new to us and we were without any experience in the Euroleague. In the ULEB Cup last year, we won the first-round games by 20 and 30 points, but here it's very different. One, two, three points can decide every game. And in those first games we just didn't show what we could do. It's kind of incredible how terrible our shooting was, now that we have shown we have a lot of great shooters. Now, we know we can beat every team we faced, and also every other team knows that. I think they prepare differently for us now, and there's a difference for us going in. Nobody is thinking it's OK to lose by one or two as long as we don't lose by 20 or 30. We are going in now prepared to win and showing that."
Most impressive have been your road wins, at Barcelona, against Efes in Istanbul and Maccabi in Tel Aviv. What is the secret to the attitude you guys are stepping on these courts with?
"Those first couple of games we won, no one expected it. Not Barcelona, for sure, and not Efes, either. Everyone thought maybe we were lucky. I don't know if it looked like we were a weak team coming to play a strong team, but they just weren't ready for us and we were very ready for them. That's because after our first two losses, we knew that another one might be it for us in the Euroleague, that we wouldn't come back from losing the first three. We went to Barcelona with a live-or-die idea in our heads. It was like that for us. We knew that if lost there, we were going to be in big trouble. The fans and sponsors were waiting for a win. It was like we couldn't come home if we lost that one."
Lietuvos Rytas kept pretty much same players who won the ULEB Cup and added Matt Nielsen. How much has knowing each other so well helped this team in the Euroleague so far?
"I think the time together helps. It gives us a lot. But I just think we play together. We know don't have a big star or someone you can give the ball to in the last seconds of every situation for him to finish. With our team, you never know who is going to score. And that makes for a good team, when all the players are equal and everyone can play. If one day someone is struggling, the other guys help him. And that's how we get it done."
That team chemistry - all the talking together on the court, the bench players involved - how did that chemistry come about?
"When you are winning, everyone is happy and wants to help each other. Right now, the team looks perfect. We don't have any problems. If we don't score or someone misses a shot, everyone helps each other. There's no yelling at each other, the team is going up together. Maybe we have right players, chosen by the general manager and the coaches. The bench players are always ready to help and don't cry about not playing enough. Everyone is happy with their minutes and just looking for the wins."
After suffering a motorcycle accident a few years ago, the success of the last year must be extra special to you. Is it something you think about a lot?
"I don't want to remember too much and I don't want to forget. It happened and was a part of my life. I am happy that I'm still playing and that I came back. From my experience, I now think that a lot of guys can come back even if doctors say no. Now, my goal is to do what I believe and go forward, not just in basketball, but in anything."
How did the long comeback process help you to become a stronger player at both the physical and mental level?
"I know that I respect the game more now, for sure. And I know what I can do and can't do after the game, how to prepare myself. I know that it's real easy to lose everything. And that gives me more perspective."
How did facing the best European players with the Lithuanian national team and in the ULEB Cup help you when came to the Euroleague?
"I knew a lot of players from the ULEB Cup and the Olympics, as you said, and I knew most of those guys played in the Euroleague. So it was good to play in those games to learn who they are and what they do. It gives you more trust in yourself when you face them here, because you know them and how strong they are. But you played against them, so you believe more in yourself, for sure, when you find them in the Euroleague. Even if they are big stars, you think of them as just another player like you."
Everyone saw last year how excited Vilnius was to have a Euroleague team. Now it must be crazy up there. What is the reaction of the city and the fans to this amazing Euroleague run?
"The fans are always with us. We always have a full arena of 11,000 for all the Euroleague games. They travel with us, too. There were a lot in Milan, for example. Now they are getting crazy. They start thinking about last year and how far we went. We know what they want and we want the same. Right now, you can start feeling how this is getting bigger and bigger. After the first two games, they said 'OK, we still believe'. So we have good fans. They believe and don't leave."
Now that Lietuvos Rytas is beating the expectations every week, how far can the team go in this competition?
"My opinion is that right now we are still just trying to make it to the Top 16. We don't think any further than that. Not about first place, second, and not the Final Four. We just want to go from this group and make it as far as we can. We can't think so far as the Final Four, but we want to go as far we can."