Team Focus: Zalgiris

Oct 02, 2008 by Print
Rimantas Grigas, Head Coach
Rimantas Grigas - Zalgiris
Coach, tell us about your team's roster for the next Euroleague season, what changes you made and what improvements you expect to gain from those decisions?
"First of all, we still haven’t completed our roster. The roster that we have now looks good enough, but we still have to do some adjustments to look great. We've got only five backcourt players and we have to keep in mind that we play not only Euroleague games but Lithuanian League and Baltic League games, too. With such a tight schedul, it will be heavy load on these players, so we have to find additions to them. On the other hand, I am happy that we have a balanced set of big men in the current rotation. Last year, we had problems and sometimes struggled inside, while this year it shouldn’t be a problem. However, we are still looking for some additions and more accurate estimations could be done when our roster is completed."
How much can you learn from the preseason about your team? What signs do you look for now that will help when the Euroleague starts?
"It’s still hard to say about some significant signs from the preseason games because we played all together only for three weeks. We played many road games and had particular tasks in those games. I don’t think we are in our best shape right now, but we've got three weeks before the Euroleague tip-off and I believe we will be ready by that time. We still lack better understanding between players on the court, but we are working on that and we will work it out. We still have three weeks to prepare ourselves for big games and even if we have rocky start in the beginning of the season, it won’t be a big deal because we will get better with every game."
Now that all the other teams have mostly completed their rosters, how does the competition in the Euroleague this season look like to you?
"As for our group, this is not a difficult question to answer. There are three top dogs of the Euroleague are in our group – Panathinaikos, Montepaschi Siena and Barcelona - and they are favourites. All the other teams can fight for the fourth place. However, I don’t think that we are limited to the fourth place: if we play our game, we can climb to the top in group standings."
What are your goals going into the new Euroleague season?
"Our main goal is to make it to the Top 16. When we are there, we can set new goals, but the initial goal is the Top 16."
Zalgiris KaunasComing off one of the winningest seasons in club history, Zalgiris now looks to carry its domestic success into the Euroleague as it marks 10 years to its first – and only – Euroleague crown. Last season, Zalgiris lifted three domestic trophies – the Lithuanian League, Lithuanian Cup and Baltic League – and now it’s on a mission not only to return to the Top 16, but to go much further. Zalgiris has put together arguably its best roster in recent years. Not only does head coach Rimantas Grigas have the core of last year’s team back, including all-time Euroleague Basketball top scorer Marcus Brown and forwards Jonas Maciulis, Paulius Jankunas and Dainius Salenga, but Zalgiris also brought back dominant center Loren Woods after a year away and signed playmaker Willie Deane and big man Ratko Varda. Youngsters like Mantas Kalnietis, Donatas Motejiunas, Zygimantas Janavicius and Arturas Milaknis will try to step up and contribute off the Zalgiris bench to help the team climb one step higher.

Marcus Brown
Dainius Salenga
Mantas Kalnietis
Willie Deane
Loren Woods
Tadas Klimavicius
Paulius Jankunas
Ratko Varda
Jonas Maciulis
Eurelijus Zukauskas
Head Coach: Rimantas Grigas
Zalgiris found a new floor leader in Deane, who comes off an outstanding debut ULEB Cup season with Lukoil Academic, leading the competition in index ranking average and placing second in assists. Kalnietis looks to become Zalgiris's backup point guard. His explosiveness and energy turn him into a challenge for any defender. Janavicius offers fantastic court vision and driving skills to the mix. As usual, Brown will be his team's main scoring reference. Brown has been a domestic champion in five different countries, but will be more motivated than anyone to win his first Euroleague title. Maciulis, nicknamed "The Bull," offers explosiveness, intensity and endless talent at both ends. Veteran forward Salenga and youngster Milaknis will come off the bench to help the team on the wings.

Few teams in the entire Euroleague have a battery of big men as talented, deep and powerful as Zalgiris has this season. Marcus Brown - Zalgiris KaunasJankunas is an excellent outside shooter who also offers a nice set of post moves and is an excellent offensive rebounder. Woods returns to Zalgiris after his Euroleague debut season with Efes Pilsen ready to provide mobility, rebounds and points in the paint. Varda is a great add due to his talent, knowledge of the game and work ethic. Eurelijus Zukauskas, a Euroleague winner with Zalgiris in 1999, can still offer the rebounding, intimidation and blocked shots that made him one of the top defensive centers in the continent. Motejiunas is a star in the making, a left-handed power forward with the right talent and fundamentals to take over in the near future.

This season marks the 10th anniversary of Zalgiris's biggest success, when the Lithuanian powerhouse went all the way to win the Euroleague title against all odds, showing that offensive-minded basketball could also win titles. That team set the stage for a decade of exciting European basketball. The club is once again an underdog as it enters the new Euroleague campaign. But with a super scorer in Brown, a deep, versatile frontcourt and a good number of youngsters ready to show they belong to the European elite, the sky is the limit for Zalgiris this season.