The last time he was running up and down Euroleague courts like this, he was a monthly MVP and his team was on its way to the Final Four. That was back in the spring of 2005. After two unpredictable years in which he hardly played, Arvydas Macijauskas of Olympiacos is once again a monthly MVP, the first of a new season that he hopes will end for him and the Reds at the Final Four in Madrid. Despite the setbacks he suffered after becoming an all-Euroleague first-teamer in 2004-05 - one season on the bench in the NBA and a knee injury last year - Macijauskas knew his time would come again. "I always believed in myself," Macijauskas said in a Euroleague.net interview. "Of course, I was not sitting home, watching TV and telling myself that I would be a good player again when my leg was OK. I was working hard in rehab in the beginning and then again doing extra work in the summer to make sure. So I believed because I could feel it, too."
Arvydas, congratulations on being the November MVP. You lead the Euroleague in scoring and performance rating, among other things. Did you expect to start the season so strong after missing so much time?
"Yes, I believe that I did expect it. Last year, of course, the injury changed my life a lot. But there was a lot of work to do to come back, and I did that work every day in the summer. I didn't go with the national team, so I was able to spend the whole preseason with Olympiacos. To me that was the key to being ready for the season. And that's why I knew that I could be ready, because I was doing all that work."
Do you feel like you are back where you want to be after two difficult seasons, physically and mentally?
"For sure, I feel ready, but you can't be happy with yourself every day or not happy with yourself every day. The coaches are always not happy, they are finding small things to improve, and I am the same way with myself. Sometimes things go good, sometimes worse. The important thing is you always have to look to improve."
Did you have to rediscover yourself or your shot a little? Or were you sure that once you got healthy, everything would return to normal for you?
"Everybody was discussing this a lot, I know, but I always believed in myself. Of course, I was not sitting home, watching TV and telling myself that I would be a good player again when my leg was OK. I was working hard in rehab in the beginning and then again doing extra work in the summer to make sure. So I believed because I could feel it, too."
In the Fan Mail we did recently, you talked about how much you missed the Euroleague last season when you were injured. What about the first season, when you were in the NBA and healthy, but not playing?
"What is most painful is when you don't get a chance. When you have a chance and you don't perform well, OK. But if you don't get the chance, it's hard to understand anything. So yes, I missed European basketball, the team game we have here as compared to the U.S. It's just so different, the two types of basketball. Here, you play with your teammates much more, the crowds are crazy, there's so much noise and fire. And this is just the regular season still: imagine when the Top 16, playoffs and Final Four come."
After you returned from the NBA and before you got injured, you played for Lithuania at the World Championships in Japan. Was that comeback, after not playing a whole season, difficult?
"It wasn't so easy after sitting on the bench and even practicing so little. The U.S. just has different basketball compared to Europe, but what helped was that the World Championships are played in the European style. It wasn't easy after so much time off, but I could put it behind me and concentrate on my future."
A lot of Olympiacos fans believe that if you were healthy last season, your team might have made the Final Four. Does that put any pressure on you now, maybe more than other players?
"Personally, I don't feel a lot of pressure. I try to do what I know the best: and that's to play basketball and try to be make my team and all my teammates better. Last year is over, in my opinion, and besides, basketball is a team sport, not a one-on-one sport. Some players are healthy, others not, but the key is when you are healthy to always play your best."
You watched Pini Gershon coach Olympiacos all last season and are playing under him. Is it a good system for you?
"I believe that for me the most important thing is trying to play team basketball. I don't try to score or shoot a lot of shots. If I am open, I shoot. And I just try to help my team. For sure, I believe that for everybody playing for Pini is easy, not because of any system, but because he won the Euroleague twice and he understands basketball."
You have already played in the Olympiacos-Panathinaikos derby. Can you compare that to anything else in your basketball career?
"No, because the Olympiacos-Panathinaikos derby is unique, whether you are in Europe or certainly compared to the U.S. Or maybe 'unique' is the wrong word. It's difficult to explain. You have see it, and even better is to play in it, because then you have the chance to feel it. It's a great experience because you feel how much people love their teams."
You said recently that you hope to be invited by the Lithuanian national team to the 2008 Olympics. How important would going to Beijing be for you?
"We are now at the beginning of a long, long season, and we'll see who can stay healthy, but for sure going to the Olympics to play for your country and national team is a big thing for everybody.
Everyone is writing and talking about maybe all the best players will go this time, but we'll have to wait and see. There's a long season before that."
No one likes to look ahead, but is it fair to say that success this season for Olympiacos means reaching the Final Four and fighting for a title in Madrid?
"For sure. Everybody wants be there - and not just to be there, but to win it. There are a lot of strong teams that want the same. It's going to take practicing hard every day, playing smart and hoping it comes to you. There's so much time left, the only answer is to keep working."