It is a special month for Lietkabelis Panevezys power forward Gediminas Orelik. He is about to become a father of a baby girl. He is also the leading scorer of a Lietkabelis Panevezys team that is arguably one of the most pleasant surprises in the 7DAYS EuroCup this season.
Gediminas Orelik, Lietkabelis: 'Everybody sees that I am back'
Orelik is averaging 16.1 points on 41.5% three-point shooting and 4.4 rebounds, ranking 14th among all 7DAYS EuroCup players at 17.3 per night, an especially sweet achievement since he was sidelined for more than two years due to injury. He worked hard and stayed patient during the recovery process, returning to finish last season with Bosnian side Spars Sarajevo. Six years after this last appearance in the EuroCup, Orelik is back and making things happen for Lietkabelis. "I didn't know which level I would reach, so in the beginning of the season, I was thinking: 'EuroCup, let's see how my body reacts and how I can play at this high level,' " Orelik told EuroCupbasketball.com. "But I am back, and everybody sees that I am back. I am in the same spot I was."
First things first You are becoming a father any day now. How excited are you? Boy or girl?
"Thanks. A girl! I have been trying to keep focus, you know? My wife is in her hometown with her parents, and I am in Panevezys. So, she is not too far away; it is a one-hour drive. So, when she calls, I will just get in the car and just go. So maybe that will be easier. We talk all the time on the phone and every time, she is telling me to just go to work and do my stuff, because she will be OK. We are supporting each other, so it's great."
On to basketball, you just beat MoraBanc Andorra. How important was that after a bad loss against Joventut Badalona?
"We probably were very tired when we played in Badalona. We had three games in six of seven days, and it was a long trip, first to Helsinki, then to Barcelona. It was very hard, and we didn't even have practice in the evening, so we didn't even have some time for us. But then we came back, and we know our goals, so we just did our job and played our game. We are playing very well at home, as everybody has been. The home-court advantage is working for us."
Lietkabelis, 8-5 right now, is topping most people's expectations. How does it feel?
"Oh yes. Before the season, everybody was saying that we would be eighth [in our group], at best. Everybody was saying that, but when we started to play, from the first game, people were starting to change their minds. There are good guys in this team and our coach is great. He built this team, so that's probably why it is doing so well."
Your last two opponents, Turk Telekom Ankara and Hamburg Towers, beat you earlier this season. Is that an extra motivation as you fight for home-court advantage in the playoffs?
"For sure, this is an extra motivation because we need to keep winning. We might even reach third place if we managed to win both games. And like you said, we are fighting for the home-court advantage. We lost in Ankara by five points and against Hamburg by a few points, too, so it would be huge for us if we can get those two wins."
You were injured for more than two years. How was the process of getting back to play basketball?
"Yes, I didn't play for like two-and-a-half years. Those were hard, tough times, but I didn't keep my head down; I know myself. I didn't even try to go faster. I was trying at the beginning to go for a faster recovery, but then immediately, I had some more problems. So, we just talked with the doctors and they kept everything easy. I just went step by step, and last year I came back. I know myself and knew I would be back to basketball. I didn't know which level I would reach, so in the beginning of the season I was thinking: 'EuroCup, let's see how my body reacts and how I can play at this high level.' But I am back, and everybody sees that I am back. I am in the same spot I was."
After two-and-a-half years away, are you enjoying basketball even more now?
"Maybe I just became smarter. My age made me a little bit slower, but my head is getting better and my shot is the game. It is pretty similar as it always was."
You had a brief appearance in the EuroLeague many years ago. Is that a goal of yours, to play in the EuroLeague?
"Why not? I think all players from Europe want to play in the EuroLeague. When you start to play basketball, you are thinking about the EuroLeague. OK, maybe somebody is thinking about the NBA, but probably most are thinking about the Euroleague, because it is the top league in Europe. So, it would be amazing if this day would come. But we will see."
Head coach Nenad Canak and two of your teammates, Djordje Gagic and Nikola Radicevic, bring a Serbian character to the team. How much of a plus are they for Lietkabelis?
"I think all players are giving something to the team. Djordje is experienced, Niko had good coaches and is also pretty experienced. The coach was a player and now he is a very good coach. He understands us in basketball and life. So, each one of us is giving something to build a better team."
This is your seventh EuroCup season, but your first since 2015-16. How has the competition changed in the time that you have been away?
"It is hard to say now. It was so long ago! It has been six years, a lot of time, and things are improved, like all technologies and all vitamins. So, for sure, it is a higher level now and we have stronger players these days. For me, this new thing of having two groups of 10 is perfect, having more games, 18 games. That's good for the players, it is perfect to show themselves. I just like to have more games. OK , maybe the playoffs will be a little bit different with just one game, but still I like the schedule."
How great would it be for Lietkabelis fans to host an eighthfinals home game and have a big basketball party in Panevezys?
"That would be amazing. Probably all the players on the team are thinking about that. Having the home-court advantage would mean that a lot of people will see a good game. I think we are much better at home, so the home-court advantage is important for us. I just hope that we are going to play well and stay in the fourth or third position. That would be amazing. Step by step, more people are coming to our home games. We are trying to bring more fans, and in our last game against Andorra, there were a little bit more. I hope that, day by day, more fans will come to see us."