After making a remarkable run to the Final Four last season, Zalgiris Kaunas is on the outside looking in at the playoff spots this season. But with three wins in its last four games, the Lithuanian powerhouse has kept its hat in the ring. A cornerstone of that effort is second-year center Brandon Davies, who has been delivering the entire season, leading the team with 14.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. One of his best performances came in late February when Davies earned an MVP of the Round honor just hours after becoming a father for the second time. That game started the current winning stretch for Zalgiris, which knows that every game now is must-win, starting with a visit to Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv on Wednesday. "We all cherish [last season], and we will remember that forever, but at the end of the day, last season was last season," Davies told Euroleague.net. "Right now, as long there is still a chance, we are still fighting for that. We realize our position; we know what it will take. I know my guys are behind me; we are all in it for one goal."
Brandon, congratulations on a big win against Bayern. You guys played perfect basketball for more than three quarters. How good of a sign is that going forward?
"It is definitely a good sign. As a team, you want to peak at the right time. We are keeping our chances alive, and we are fighting for our lives right now. So, that's definitely been showing up in the last couple of game, how we have been playing."
You took advantage of mismatches to score in many ways in that game. Does Coach Jasikevicius help you read the game better?
"Our coaching staff does a great job of having a vision of how the game is going to go. They spend a lot of time and put a lot of effort into our game plan. When we are sticking to it as a team, we find situations to be successful. We just try to stick the best we can to our game plan and do whatever it takes to get a win. And when things are going that well, the momentum kind of builds up. Things start clicking; the game slows down at times. It feels great, especially when you are playing team basketball. Everyone is sharing the basketball, everyone giving everything they can and just trying to contribute in one way or another. It is good energy going around, it's contagious, so hopefully, we can keep it going."
"We are fighting for our lives right now."
How much more comfortable are you now in the EuroLeague compared to your debut season last year?
"The first year is really hard. You don't know what to expect, and a lot of things can take you by surprise. I am definitely a student of the game, so I am trying to soak up as much in as I can and learn as much as I can. In that first year, I felt that I learned a lot about the league and myself and my team and coach. The second year it is a little easier when you know what to expect, and you try to take what you learned from the previous season. It helps you to hit the ground running, and I try to do my best at that. I started off the season real well, and now it's just consistency and doing little things to help my team stay on the winning track."
This is your second season playing with Aaron White, too, and you guys seem to connect on the court quite well. Off-court, too?
"We get along on and off the court. Our wives are friends; our kids play together. My daughter says that his daughter is her best friend, so the relationship is also great off the court. And on the court, it makes it a lot easier when you kind of know where he is going to be, what he is capable of, then little things that come second nature to him. Counting on him and putting trust in him, as well. The same goes both ways."
After a bad stretch of seven losses in eight EuroLeague games, Zalgiris has won three of the last four. What has changed lately?
"We try not to look too far back at those games that we lost; we are moving forward. But a lot of those losses were games that we had control of at some point. They were all winnable game. I can't think of a game where we were completely out of the game. But, as of late, we have been doing a better job of staying focused for 40 minutes, sticking to our game plan for 40 minutes, and good things have been coming of that."
You became a father again, played a game, and earned the MVP of Round 23 honor all on the same day last month. Can you tell us about that day?
"It all happened really fast. We had a doctors' appointment, my son was past the due date, and the doctor said, 'He can come today, or come tomorrow.' We were on high alert the day before the game, and I was trying to be available for my wife. She is great; she understood we had an important game coming up. The coaches were also all very understanding and informed of the situation, and I had one of the team managers stay by the phone where my wife was texting me because we were expecting the baby at any moment. We had a practice the day before the game, I made it through that, and I went straight to the hospital. I met my wife there, she began the labor, and he was born 1 a.m. the next day. You know you don't get too much sleep after that, being excited about the new baby and trying to help out my wife the best I could. The birth went smoothly, everything was great; everyone at the hospital was great. I got a little bit of sleep; I think it was about 6 a.m. when I finally was able to close my eyes for a little bit, get a little bit of sleep. We had a shootaround around 10 a.m., then I went right back to the hospital to see my wife and son. My brother-in-law and wife's mom were here, and they were watching our daughter at the house, which definitely helped out a lot. Right before the game, I was able to go home and get a little nap in. I played the game later that night, and after a day full of excitement I just tried to do whatever I could to try to help the team win. I played as hard as I could, then get back to the hospital to be with my wife. How everything panned out, getting the win was the most important, and everything that came with the win was all extra. It was icing on top of the day when my son was born. It is a great moment that I will be able to share with him for the rest of our lives."
Regardless of results, fans keep packing the Zalgirio Arena, almost 15,000 against Bayern, another of many sell-outs. Do Zalgiris fans ever stop impressing you?
"No, these fans are truly unbelievable. I have never been a part of anything like it. Especially, you see some different things on other teams where fans are kind of fair weather, depending on how well the team is going. Here, they love and appreciate the win, and they are going to support you even harder when things are going good, but even when we were going through hard times, we were selling out the arena. They were still showing us support, and that gives us an extra boost to keep fighting through those days, keep grinding it out. It's been special. I truly love the fans here in Kaunas."
Zalgiris plays its last regular season home game this week against Darussafaka. How much of a basketball celebration can that be?
"These fans are truly unbelievable. I have never been a part of anything like it."
"It is a game on our must-win list, and we can't look too far into celebrating, because it is a really important game us. We have Maccabi coming up before that game, as well. It is a bridge we will cross when we get there, but that game is already sold out, too. Hearing that is definitely uplifting, and it just makes you want to play harder for the fans and the organization."
Maccabi comes first, as you said, another rival in the playoffs race. What can we expect in that game on Wednesday?
"All we can do is go out there and play as hard as we can and try to build off what we have been doing the past couple of games. We have been really playing together, really sharing the ball, and we followed the game plan. If we do that, it will come down to who wants it more. At this point in our season we are fighting for our lives, so all we can do is continue to fight."
You on the outside looking in at the playoffs race now. Last season, Zalgiris came on strong at this time. Can you do it again?
"Last season was definitely an unbelievable season, no doubt about that. We all cherish that and we will remember that forever, but at the end of the day, last season was last season. I take a lot of pride in making sure I am a better player every single year, and I try to make sure of that with everything that I do on a daily basis, and a lot of that is making sure I am helping my team in every way possible as well. Right now, as long there is still a chance, we are still fighting for that. We realize our position; we know what it will take. I know my guys are behind me; we are all in it for one goal. But all we can do is take it one game day at a time, and everything will work out after that. I am a strong believer in that. So, all we can do is keep putting in the work and keep fighting."