Justin Dentmon, Zalgiris Kaunas

Feb 25, 2014 by Javier Gancedo, Euroleague.net Print
Justin Dentmon, Zalgiris Kaunas
Justin DentmonAs Zalgiris Kaunas struggles to join the playoffs race in Top 16 Group F, one of its players continues to enjoy a stellar first season in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague. Point guard Justin Dentmon, 28, has been everything Zalgiris could ask for, including the most prolific three-point shooter in the Euroleague this season, with 55 strikes from the arc, and counting. He is just 16 more triples from setting a Euroleague record and his 3.25 per game are more than all but one other fulltime player this century. Dentmon is also the competition's second-best scorer with 16.9 points per game and ranks sixth with 4.7 assists on average, both figures that have improved from the regular season to the Top 16. Dentmon's previous European experience was just one full season with Israeli side Hapoel Afula and three Italian League games with EA7 Emporio Armani Milan in 2011-12. Nonetheless, he has quickly adapted and become a fan favorite in Kaunas, too. Part of the reason, as he says in this Euroleague.net interview, is that Dentmon is enjoying every minute of his Euroleague experience. "What I like the most about the Euroleague is the competition. It has a lot of great players, European and foreigners," Dentmon told Euroleague.net. "It can make you and it can break you. It is very competitive and I like the competitive drive of the Euroleague and being part of it."

Hello Justin, congratulations on a great Euroleague season. It is not easy to step in the competition and play so well right away. How did you manage to do it?

"Thanks. Just through hard work, really. I have been in the gym a lot. I am here alone, so I am not doing much throughout the day. I go to the gym and work on stuff I need to work on. I needed to adjust, but that is what pre-season is for, to learn different styles of play."

Zalgiris's only Top 16 win, against Partizan, was also one of your best games. How special was it to finally get that win?

"We had been taking baby steps to win. Every game we played, whether in the Euroleague or Lithuanian League, we were pressing to win. We had been in a slump so the first win always takes a lot of pressure off the players and the coaches. It was really important to finally get that win."

Zalgiris is backed by thousands of fans and its players are celebrities in Kaunas. How do you like that?

"I love our fans: they remind me of being back in college. It makes you feel at home when you play at home - you get the feeling that you really have a home court advantage. I have been around the city and different fans say my name and want to take a picture. It is a blessing and I feel thankful. It is very different, coming from the United States. Unless you are a NBA superstar, you will not be recognized. I get recognized a lot here. It feels good and it is a tribute to my work. I am going to stay humble and suck it all in."

How would you explain what atmosphere you can find at a Zalgiris Euroleague home game to anyone who never experienced it?

"I would say it is a surreal feeling. The way I see it, the Euroleague is the second-best league in the world, next to the NBA. It is a hard competition and winning at home is crucial. It is special to see how they take pride in their team and their country. The whole crowd sings their national anthem before every home game. Like I said, it is special."

You played three times against Real Madrid this season, also once against CSKA. From your own point of view, do you see either of them as potential Euroleague champions?

"Both are potential Euroleague champions. Both teams are really good teams, with great players. May the best team win, because they really have to go against Olympiacos, Barcelona and some other good teams to get there. You cannot say who will be champions because anybody can be beaten at any time."

Coach Saulius Stombergas gives you a lot of freedom on the court. How does it feel to have a coach that trusts you so much and gives you so much confidence?

"It feels good. He lets me go out there and be the captain of the ship. Not many coaches let you go out there and play freely. Some coaches have different styles and are very structures. He lets me go out there and get a feel for how the team is playing and how to run the offense. He really lets me run the show and I really appreciate it. It helped me out a lot. He allowed me to play towards my strength and started to make things happen."

Your next game is against FC Bayern in Munich, a team that beat you easily in Kaunas. Taking that into account, how much are you looking forward to this rematch?

"I am looking forward to it a lot. I really look forward to every Euroleague game because it gives me a chance to showcase my talent, as well as our team's talent. It gives us that chance to show people what we can do as a team. We shot the ball really poorly in our last game against them. Hopefully our percentages will go up and we'll get the win on the road."

You will face another Euroleague rookie point guard who is having a great season, Malcolm Delaney. What do you like about him and how can he be stopped?

"Malcolm Delaney is a great player - I watched him a little bit in college, the way he controls his team and gives the ball to his teammates. The way you stop him - I think you have to look at his weaknesses on the pick-and-roll. We have to double him on the pick-and-roll. Any point guard in the Euroleague doubled on the pick and roll will have problems and turn the ball over. We need to make him shoot over our hands and that will slow him down."

Zalgiris is must more than a regular club in Lithuania. How do you like working for Zalgiris and living in Kaunas?

"It feels good. Knowing the club's history, with (Arvydas) Sabonis and what they did, it is amazing to be part of something like that and it makes you want to do something positive, too. Kaunas is a great city, pretty much everything: fans, restaurants, cinema, the mall. The weather is getting better, which is a plus because it was pretty cold! I have had some conversations with Sabonis. He travels and watches his son play (Domantas Sabonis, who plays for Unicaja Malaga) and then travels back and watches us play."

After 17 games of Euroleague experience, what do you like most about it?

"What I like the most about the Euroleague is the competition. It has a lot of great players, European and foreigners. It can make you and it can break you. It is very competitive and I like the competitive drive of the Euroleague and being part of it."