When last seen in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague before this season, Arturas Gudaitis scored 14 points for Zalgiris Kaunas at age 21 in the last game before the 2015 playoffs on the floor of imminent champion Real Madrid. Two-and-a-half years later, Gudaitis now comes off the AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan bench with the take-no-prisoners attitude of a player making up for lost time. Now 24, Gudaitis was off the radar between then and now due to injuries that also kept Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius from going far in the 7DAYS EuroCup. But with this new opportunity – his first outside Lithuania – Gudaitis is turning heads by ranking fifth among all EuroLeague players in per-minute performance index rating while making 70.3% of his two-point shots, second best in the competition. He's also tied for eighth in average blocks and 11th in rebounds per game, signs of how active this young, 2.08-meter center is at both ends of the floor. "That has always been my goal walking on the court, to be the guy who can give the team one more possession, block a shot, defend and provide some good energy," Gudaitis told EuroLeague.net. "It starts inside of me. Maybe I got it from my dad and my grandfather, who both were professional wrestlers."
Arturas, you didn't know you would be in the EuroLeague until mid-September. How does it feel to be back in this competition?
"It's good for me. I think for the team, we've been a little bit unlucky, but we also can win more games. That's what is most important for me right now, winning more. The season is going well for me personally, but at the end of the day what's most important is team success. Big players become big when their teams win. About me personally, I just enjoy being back on track playing against best players in Europe and I must say I'm enjoying this new format of the EuroLeague. I had played in the old one and you only saw the best teams in the Top 16. Now, it's the best teams in Europe playing from the start of the season, which is best for everyone."
You look like you are having a lot of fun on the court. What's your favorite thing about this EuroLeague season so far?
"When the team wins at home, seeing the atmosphere that the fans make is something special for me and all of my teammates. When we started leading against Baskonia – even though our 21-point lead went down to 6 later – when we were building the lead on our home court, that is my favorite thing so far. I enjoy winning and hate losing, so winning is my favorite thing."
You are playing really well and consistently. What did let you jell so quickly in Milan?
"The coach's system is very simple for me, so it was not that difficult to adjust to it and find my place in the system the coach is using. It's a really good system for a mobile big man. Even though we do change defenses a lot, sometimes one kind and other times another, it's still basketball like everywhere. I just tried to be focused from the first day of my arrival and maybe that helped me. Nothing was difficult. Another thing that really helped me is my teammate from the Lithuanian national team, Mantas Kalnietis, who has been here in Milan for quite a while now."
You didn't play so many games in the last two 7DAYS EuroCup seasons. Are you surprised at all with your performance so far?
"Yes, I had some minor injuries in the last two years, and also we did not play that well as a team to advance to further rounds in the EuroCup, and as a result, the number of games I played was not high. But this year I am trying to stay healthy, and so far I probably have played as many games in the EuroLeague this season as I did in the EuroCup in the previous two combined. I am really thankful for how it's going, for being in Milan. They brought me here and they believe in me. I try to play hard for them and I hope my performance will not only remain consistent, but also get better and help my team win more games."
You've come off the bench a lot in your career and in all 13 EuroLeague games this season. How do you approach that role as a reserve?
"I try to give the team some impact and some energy coming off the bench. I am OK with that role and I know how to play it. I had spoken with our coach before about why I come from the bench, and I don't have a problem with it at all. When I come on the court, I try to bring energy and play hard every time."
You share time at center with Kaleb TarzcewskI and both of you are playing well. How are you helping each other in practices and games?
"We're playing really physical in practice, and I think it helps us play better against our opponents. In practice, we kill each other, compete against each other, but in a good way. The practices we have are really physical practices and we love that. In the games, it's like war, and we prepare for the war in practice."
This is your first year outside of Lithuania, how is the transition off the court going for you? How do you like Italy so far?
"It's good. The first year out of your country can be a little difficult, because everything is different: food, people, culture, language and other things. But I really like Italy and everything is fine here. I did not need much time to make a cultural transition. In Lithuania everyone knows basketball, so every game you play under some pressure. Here you also feel some pressure, but it's a different kind of pressure, I would say. When you are a foreigner, you need to get results for the team, and I like that pressure. I am enjoying that like I am enjoying playing in the EuroLeague again, which was the most important transition for me."
Did it help to have a countryman like Mantas Kalnietis on the team when you got there?
"For sure. He's my man. Mantas is great and he showed me a lot of small things that eventually became big things: where to go, how to spend my free time, where to eat, and how to adjust to the culture here. That's important when you are new to a place and that also made my transition smooth."
Something that impresses people is how active you are on both ends of the court. Where did your aggressiveness come from?
"I don't know; my style is like this, aggressiveness for the team, trying to give something more than the usual guy. That has always been my goal walking on the court, to be the guy who can give the team one more possession, block a shot, defend and provide some good energy. It starts inside of me. Maybe I got it from my dad and my grandfather, who both were professional wrestlers."
Now that you are back in the EuroLeague and making the most of your opportunity in Milan, what are your and the team's goals in the EuroLeague going forward?
"I, personally believe, as does the team, that we can make our goal to reach the top eight. Maybe it sounds unreal, but for us it's a goal and we will try to achieve that until our last chance. We have enough talent, enough experience and the coaching staff is great. We have to play for that goal. It's my and the team's goal, the top eight."