Jonas Maciulis's career has been defined by many things. Toughness. Great shooting. Reliability. Durability.
All of that was wiped away by a serious knee injury he suffered during the 2010-2011 season. However after nearly a year on the sidelines and time spent building himself back up to top shape, the player dubbed "The Bull" is back in the spotlight with Panathinaikos Athens and gunning for Euroleague glory.
In fact, heading into this week’s playoffs-deciding Game 5 against Regal Barcelona in Spain, Maciulis is not only the Greens’ leading scorer this season, but also the only player Coach Argiris Pedoulakis has inserted into the starting five for every Euroleague game.
Seeing Maciulis back at the top of his game only seems right. After all, his passion for the game is unsurpassed. "Basketball is the biggest part of my life," Maciulis explained. "I [have been] playing basketball since [I was] seven years old. I can't imagine my life without it."
So great is his love for the game, that Maciulis is unable to think of it as a true occupation. "I can't call playing basketball my job; this is my hobby." With that love of basketball fueling his comeback, it is no surprise to see Maciulis starring on the hardwood once more, especially in his favorite competition, the Turkish Airlines Euroleague.
“I missed it very much because this is my favorite league, where I like to play,” Maciulis said. “I like the style, I like the players I meet on the court. This league is for everyone that wants to play at a high level.”
Maciulis’s rise to prominence was akin to those of Lithuania’s best talents. He played for Zalgiris’s famed Arvydas Sabonis School as a teenager and represented his country at the junior levels as a teenager. Maciulis took medals home in three consecutive summers, including a gold one from the 2005 FIBA Under-21 World Championships as a double-digit scorer and one of the youngest players on the Lithuanian roster.
That year he began to play for Zalgiris’s main team and within a year, Maciulis was a fixture in the starting five. The 2006-07 season marked the first of five in a row in which Maciulis averaged double figures in the Euroleague – an accomplishment he then shared with only three others players… and Maciulis was the youngest of the bunch.
After four seasons with Zalgiris, during which Maciulis reaped a pair of Lithuanian League and Lithuanian Cup titles as well as the 2008 Baltic League crown, he left his home country for a lucrative deal with Armani Milano. But after a strong first season, his second season in the fashion capital was cut short due to a serious knee injury.
He also sat out from EuroBasket 2011 while recovering. When Maciulis finally felt he was ready to return to the courts, he took what seemed at the time to be a curious decision. He donned the uniform of hometown club Baltai to get back into shape… And he played for free!
“It's totally true,” Maciulis confirmed. “I chose this. I had some offers from other teams, but I didn't feel like I was 100% ready to come back to high level basketball. So I chose a low level team. They couldn't pay anything, but they wanted me to join them. It's my hometown team, so I just said that I would try to play for a few months for free, to come back to playing basketball and to really be 100%. This was the only reason why I did this.”
The unorthodox move paid dividends and when he was ready for a new challenge, he found one waiting, again, in Italy. Perennial Italian champion Montepaschi Siena signed Maciulis for the stretch run of the 2011-12 season. “Siena helped me a lot. I started to practice with a Euroleague team, so it was one more step higher to improve my skills, to come back to play basketball at a higher speed, with stronger players. It helped me very much.”
Though Maciulis did not play in many games in Siena, he is grateful for the opportunity, which proved a springboard to get back where he is now. “All the trainers helped me, I had some individual practices, so thanks very much to them, and they helped me a lot. Siena helped me a lot to come back to high level basketball.”
Perhaps more than anything else, Maciulis’s time in Siena put him on track to do something that every basketball star dreams of: to wear his country’s colors in the Olympic Games. “First of all there was qualification in Venezuela, and after a few practices with the national team I felt really good,” Maciulis said. “I felt that I really was at a high level. So these few games in the pre-Olympics, I proved to myself and everybody that I had some good games. I proved I could play again in high level basketball games. It was really helpful for me.”
Even before the games in London began, teams started calling Maciulis to inquire about his services for this season. When the call came from Panathinaikos, Maciulis had no doubts. “I felt great, because you can't expect every day that these clubs, with such a history, these big clubs, call you and ask you to play for them. You don't have to think a lot about it. You just take it.”
Maciulis’s aggressive style of play and his passion for winning are among the qualities that made him desirable to Panathinaikos in the first place and a fan favorite since his arrival. “I fight for the team and I will do my best,” Maciulis said to explain his style of play. “I will help my teammates and I will be fighting for every ball and to win every game. I want my team to win as much as we can. Not only single games, but titles… Basketball is such a game, you never know what can happen, but we will try to do our best and makes all possible success for us.”