October's MVP from Zalgiris chats with Joe Arlauckas
The first player to visit The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas in its third season is Zalgiris Kaunas guard Marius Grigonis, who was named MVP of October in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. The Lithuanian scorer takes Joe on his basketball path, from growing up in Kaunas to leaving for Spain as a teenager, then playing for ALBA Berlin and returning home to star for Zalgiris.
Grigonis's love for basketball was passed down from his grandfather to his father to his brother, who is older than Marius by four years and served as a barometer for the younger sibling to understand his potential. When Marius started to beat his brother in one-on-one games, something clicked. Soon he developed into an elite prospect who starred in youth tournaments and for Zalgiris's B team, prompting scouts around Europe to keep tabs on him. However, the way his move to Spain went down is not the way many might have expected.
[0:09:36] "When I moved to Spain, it was just so random. I mean, I had no agent and then one guy called me and he said, 'Hey, do you want to go to Spain?' And I was like, 'Alright,' "Grigonis revealed. "It was just random and I didn't overthink it."
Although being a teenager alone without family while playing in Spain's second division posed a challenge, Grigonis adapted to have a strong season with Huesca and learned many basketball and life lessons along the way.
[0:10:50] "I saw the level and I thought, 'Okay, here I for sure I can play,' " Grigonis recalled. "I had Coach Quim Costa. He told me, 'If you not willing to work hard in practice, you're not going to play.' And I thought, 'I'm better than everybody, I can for sure, I can play.' And after the first games that I was playing – I don't know, 10 minutes or something – then I realized how the basketball world works. And I talked with him and he helped me a lot to realize that, and I mean, for sure it was hard. I think I was 18, 19 and the first time without the parents to cook by myself. I mean, I Googled everything. 'How much time do I need to put these spaghettis in the boiling water?' or whatever. But it's, you know, it's experience."
The one season with Huesca showed the bigger clubs in Spain what kind of talent Grigonis possessed. He had offers to choose from before signing with Manresa for two seasons. Then came the 2016-17 campaign with Tenerife, which resulted in his first trophy when they won the Basketball Champions League. Soon came a call to join ALBA Berlin, which is where he played under Coach Aito Garcia Reneses and made his 7DAYS EuroCup debut. One of the things that helped Grigonis continue to improve from stop to stop was that he was never satisfied.
[0:39:34] "I think you never achieve your own expectation because you always expect more. You know, and you always expect that you're going to be a better player," Grigonis explained. "And if you don't achieve that, that's the thing when you get, you know, pretty upset. 'I wanted more' or whatever."
Coming home to join Zalgiris under Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius in 2018 was a defining moment. Grigonis was able to play in front of friends and family while wearing the jersey of the club that he had cheered for as a boy. He was able to make them proud with his strong play down the stretch as Zalgiris won its final six regular-season games to sneak into the playoffs.
[0:55:40] "One of the EuroLeague coaches said that it was impossible to go to the playoffs for Zalgiris. When we started winning, everybody was like, 'Hold on. What's going on?' When we won in Madrid [to clinch a playoffs qualification], it was one of the best parties. It was amazing!"
With a one-hour format of exclusive one-on-one interviews, The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas goes well beyond the playing court with each podcast to delve into the life experiences that have made his guests protagonists and legends of the EuroLeague. The Crossover debuted in 2018 and has featured such current stars as Toko Shengelia, Shane Larkin and Kyle Hines, coaching greats such as Ettore Messina, Pablo Laso and Zeljko Obradovic, and legends like Theo Papaloukas, Nikola Vujcic and Mike Batiste, among others. The first guest in Season 3 as FC Bayern Munich Coach Andrea Trinchieri.
The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas is available on Youtube, iTunes, Audioboom, Spotify, Deezer, RadioPublic, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher, CastBox, iVoox and other platforms.