He is a proud native of Lithuania, who went to college in the United States and played professional basketball in seven countries. Despite that, FC Barcelona head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius feels at home in the Catalan capital.
Jasikevicius was just 24 and one of European basketball's best young point guards when he signed with Barcelona for the first time in the summer of 2000. Although it was the allure of playing for a title contender in the EuroLeague that drew him to the club, Saras quickly fell in love with the city.
"I remember, first of all, the great weather and the beauty of the city kind of takes you immediately," he said. "But then you get to know the city, you start learning a little bit more about the Catalan culture, about Gaudi, and all the things. Obviously, the food is great here and you have the sea, which is very close to you from many parts of the city. So it is almost like a little bit of perfection that we are talking about. Basically, that is what captured me so much."
"I remember, first of all, the great weather and the beauty of the city kind of takes you immediately."
His three-year stint ended in the best way possible. Playing alongside stars such as Dejan Bodiroga, Gregor Fucka and Juan Carlos Navarro, Saras helped Barcelona make history by winning the EuroLeague for the first time in club history. They made it a triple crown by capturing the Copa del Rey and the Spanish League title, too.
"We had great teams and always knew we had a chance," Saras recalled. "And then in 2003, everything came together. We were also a great group of guys competing every night and slowly, slowly, by going one day at a time, we managed to come to all the important moments of the season in great shape, and take all the titles."
Saras left in 2003, but continued to win. He led Lithuania to the gold medal at EuroBasket 2003 and then joined Maccabi Tel Aviv, with which he won back-to-back EuroLeague crowns. After two seasons in the NBA, Jasikevicius joined Panathinaikos Athens, where he won a fourth EuroLeague title. After stops at Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius and Fenerbahce Istanbul, Jasikevicius returned to play for Barcelona again in 2012.
"Barcelona gave me the opportunity and at this point already, I was a little bit more mature as a human being," Jasikevicius explained. "I was choosing not so emotionally and I thought it was the best club for me to come back and to be with Coach Xavi Pascual. It was ultimately a very good decision because it helped me in my first years as a coach."
However, in those years away – both before that 2012-13 season and after, Saras came back to visit Barcelona often. He and his family would vacation in the city and the Costa Brava area, which is 60 kilometers northeast of the city. Those trips not only allowed him to stay in touch with old friends, but also to regularly attend FC Barcelona football games.
"I am still a ticket holder. I love football and Barcelona, together with Manchester United, are my two favorites teams," Saras confirmed. "Camp Nou is magical. It is huge. A lot of times, when you come in, you realize how huge the stadium is and over the years, we had the great pleasure of watching Messi and company play."
Because of all his connections to the city, there was no better place for Jasikevicius to sign when he decided it was time to leave Zalgiris Kaunas after seven years as a player, assistant coach and head coach. He joined FC Barcelona last summer and felt comfortable immediately.
"It was an easy comeback, it was almost like coming back visiting your friends."
"As far as the club goes, I didn't have the integration period because I know all the people and everything is very familiar, and I don't have to find out anything because I know everybody in the club," he said. "It was an easy comeback, it was almost like coming back visiting your friends."
It wasn't only his familiarity with the club and the city that made Saras feel welcome. It was also his warm relationship with Barcelona's fans that has endured over the years.
"I always had a good relationship with Barcelona fans. They always supported me over the years when I was a player," Jasikevicius said.
There is one thing about Barcelona that Saras pointed out which has changed drastically since he first came to live in the city nearly two decades ago: "It became more expensive, that's for sure! The city kept improving and kept getting more beautiful. Obviously, Barcelona is improving, like all the major metropolitan areas in the world. It is just getting better."