The Euroleague's top scorer all decade is remarkable, in part, because he is seldom thought of solely as a shooting star. A competitive spirit second to none has been the primary calling card of his 10-year Euroleague career, with team leadership and full-court intensity coming a close second and third. Just the same, Marcus Brown of Zalgiris Kaunas can shoot with the best of them, as he proved with incredible numbers that made him Euroleague Basketball's choice for MVP of December. Brown made an unheard-of 15 of 19 three-pointers this month, not to mention 13 more free throws without a miss, giving him a perfect 29 so far this season. The end result, three victories in as many games, left Zalgiris firmly among the Top 16 contenders from Group A. But as Brown says in this Euroleague.net interview, he and his team are far from finished in pursuit of their goals. "Nothing is over yet: We want to still continue trying to move up," Brown told Euroleague.net. "We're maturing - and we have already matured - but the process never stops."
Marcus, congratulations on being named December MVP. What is the team's mood after moving up to the middle of the Top 16 race in such a tough group?
"The mood is pretty good. We still have some work to do. We had a tough first leg of the regular season. We're into the second now, and things look better. We want to stay concentrated and stay focused. Nothing is over yet. We want to still continue trying to move up."
After a tough year with injuries, the last three games must have felt like old times for you, leading the entire Euroleague in scoring two weeks in a row?
"It always feels good to win and have that camaraderie with the guys on the team. I'm just proud of them. We had a couple of tough games where we weren't focused at the end, and for that reason we started off pretty bad. But we were able to get things going and in the last few weeks I was able to get hot. That helped lead the team in a positive direction."
Just before December, you once again became the top scorer in the Euroleague all decade. What does that distinction mean to you?
"There are a lot of great scorers who came before me who I am pretty sure scored a lot more, but I think that being the top scorer this decade is just a testament to my ability to adjust from country to country, coach to coach and system to system and still maintain the level of play, respect and integrity that it takes to succeed. Again, I feel blessed and thankful to be in this position and to enjoy basketball at this level. People may doubt, and that's fine, but at the end of the day, my expectations are always much higher than what other people expect."
The key win for Zalgiris in December was probably the first one, at home against Tau Ceramica. Did that game turn the tide after a slow start?
"In the Euroleague, what you always want do is protect your home court most of all and then get what you can on the road. We were playing well at home all season anyway, so we wanted to protect our court again by being aggressive, and I think it carried over from there, game by game. That win against Tau helped us get to a good spot."
In that game, you put the team on your back, taking all the big shots. What goes through your mind in those moments?
"You always try put yourself mentally in those positions and see yourself actually being successful in them. And then once you've done it a lot of times, that repetition helps. I was able to get into a rhythm, and guys were finding me in right spots. Our offensive execution was good, with guys cutting when necessary. And we were aggressive on defense. Our defense was our best offense and vice-versa. Even when we were missing shots, our transition defense - which had been one of our Achilles heels - had improved, so we didn't get hurt so much by misses. All that, together with good screens and DeJaun Collins getting me the ball in the right spots helped me get a rhythm going. Then it was just a question of reacting to each defender - some teams were going over screens after me, some going under and following - and adjusting correctly."
The next week, against Virtus Bologna, you scored your career high, 31 points. How did you keep it going?
"Any time a shooter gets hot, it's a great feeling. It's a great feeling to have as a player and no other player can do anything against you, really, when you get going like that. It felt like I could have made each shot with my eyes closed. I just hope it carries over now going into the new year."
Before the Virtus home game, there was a 50 Years of European Club Basketball ceremony dedicated to the history of Zalgiris. How did you feel watching that?
"If you look at the history of the European Cup and the Euroleague, you see guys like Kukoc, Sabonis, Belov and others. It's a great thing to pay homage to the past because it can help a lot of European players today become students of the game and realize what all those guys who came before them accomplished. It's always great to learn, to know history. And with the Zalgiris fans, who gave lot of energy and atmosphere as always, that made it a great night."
You finished December with the team's first road win, at Prokom. How important, psychologically, was that?
"I think it gives you a sense that later on, trying to get to the Top 16, then playing in February and March, we'll be battle tested. Just like you learn from mistakes, you learn from wins, too. Knowing what you need to do to execute down the stretch wins ballgames. Good teams do that. We're maturing - and we have already matured - but the process never stops. We just want to try to continue in a positive way, sharing the ball, understanding sacrifice. Sometimes, it's not your day, your shot's not on or whatever, but you can still contribute. A team can't have 12 scorers."
You played with Arvydas Sabonis in the NBA one season. What convinced you to join Zalgiris, his club, last summer?
"I felt he understood my situation. When he was struggling with his knee injury, people gave up on him and said he couldn't move anymore. I think he knew what it felt like to have people doubt you and be against you. I am blessed to be able to bounce back from such a severe injury as I had. For him to give me a chance to come back and show people who said I should retire or I was finished and couldn't come back means a lot to me. It was pathetic to hear those things, but I am not out there to prove anyone wrong. I am just out there to play basketball."
As someone who has played with top clubs throughout Europe, is there something special about basketball in Lithuania?
"It's one of the hidden gems in the Euroleague as far as fan support goes. Even on the road, we always get fans from Zalgirs. There really are intense rivalries here, but the fan support here is very respectful. I played here four or five times as an opponent, too, and I have never seen anyone throwing things or any negative activity, really. It's all supportive, them cheering for their team, and the atmosphere and energy is great, really great. It's something to hold onto and be a part of. Hopefully, in time, they will get a new arena here and have the chance to put even more fans inside. With the atmosphere we already have, that would be phenomenal."