Bring on the Euroleague!

Martynas Pocius - ZalgirisGreetings from Kaunas! Even though I am European and have played for my national teams almost every summer coming up, it might be a good idea to introduce myself first. I am Martynas Pocius, a new player for Zalgiris Kaunas, but you can call me Marty. That's the nickname I went by for the last six years while I played high school and university basketball in America. I came home to Lithuania when possible to play with national teams in my age group, but this time, I am back to stay. Despite a chance to keep playing at one of the top universities in the NCAA for one of the top coaches in the world, I made my decision this summer to return to European basketball. Already, I can say that this has been an exciting change that I am sure is about to get more exciting with the start of the Euroleague this week.

To make a long story short, I left Lithuania to attend an American high school for two years and then had the good fortune to be recruited to play at Duke University under head coach Mike Krzyzewski, also known also as the current U.S. national team head coach and last Olympics gold medalist. I spent four years at Duke, and could have stayed for a fifth, but I had already graduated with the academic degree that I went there to get. Four years were enough, and I just really wanted to get back to European basketball.

That's why the start of the European season means so much to me. I kind of chose Zalgiris precisely because they are in the Euroleague. I had some other options in other countries, but not with Euroleague teams. So one of the main factors in my decision was to be able to play in the Euroleague. On Wednesday, like all the other players around the continent, I am going to be very excited. To walk out on our home floor in Kaunas against Asvel Basket is going to be a thrill. I know the atmosphere here in Lithuania and in Kaunas. The people love basketball in general, but from what I hear, they fill the house for Euroleague games and it gets really crazy. My friends back in the States don't necessarily follow the Lithuanian League or the others that Zalgiris plays in, but everyone who's a basketball fan there knows about the Euroleague. My friends and coaches are excited for me to be playing in the Euroleague, too.

One reason that I wanted to get back to European basketball was to show the people here that I can still play. A lot of people in Lithuania forgot who I was, just because they didn't hear much about me overseas, so it's just good to be back and out on the court playing. I am happy to be home, that's for sure. I think being back in Lithuania makes it easier to adapt to a new basketball setting and stepping up to a higher level. What has been especially great is the fans. I've played pretty well so far and they have treated me really well.

I started the summer finishing up my studies at Duke, flew back home to represent Lithuania in the World University Games, and then went back to the States to pack and ship my stuff home. And you can say I had a lot of stuff after six years in the States. That was in early August, and the shipping people said it would arrive in a couple weeks. Instead, I just got most of it now, so it took more like a couple of months. Luckily, I took the most important stuff with me instead of shipping it. But my video games were in the shipment, so I missed those. And all my clothes from Duke, too. I didn't want to leave anything behind because I don't know when I'll be going back.

As far as basketball is concerned, I am excited about what I have seen so far. I know it's early in the season and I don't know fully what to expect. We've been playing well in the Baltic League and the Lithuanian League, but of course, I know that every Euroleague game is going to be extremely tough. We have veterans and young guys eager to show what they can do, so there's a good balance on the team. Hopefully, the more time that passes, the better we will play as a team, to reach the Top 16 and meet all the goals that the coaches set for us.

Personally, I am hoping that my preparation on two different continents turns out to be the best of both worlds. I kind of think I am more experienced than other guys my age, even though I know that some of them have been playing in the Euroleague for some time. I have seen a lot of the world and for the last four years been able to learn from Mike Krzyzewski, who knows a lot of basketball. But I learned about life and about basketball, and I think that as a result of that learning, I am not going to get lost in any situation. Like I said, it's the best of both worlds, really. I have seen a lot already, and I think I am ready for a lot more. Bring on the Euroleague!