Lietkabelis Panevezys guard Paulius Valinskas lets fans know a little bit about himself ahead of a showdown against his former role model in his debut post on his EuroCupBasketball.com blog.
Paulius Valinskas: 'I want to improve more'
Born in Kaunas, Lithuania, Paulius Valinskas is one of the many Lithuanian players to come out of Zalgiris's legendary youth system. A late bloomer, Valinskas took a step forwards in his career at age 19 while playing for Zalgiris's second squad and was promoted to Zalgiris's first team for the start of the 2016-17 season. He played there for two seasons and took part in 30 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague games before joining Lietkabelis Panevezys. After a brief stint with French side Entente Orleans 45, Valinskas returned to Lietkabelis to play alongside his brother Marius. The Valinskas brothers are making their 7DAYS EuroCup debut this season and wearing unusual uniform numbers, 66 and 99, too. Paulius will share his experiences right here all season long with his EuroCupBasketball.com blog.
What's up, EuroCup fans? First of all, I can say that I am excited to play in this very high-level competition for the first time. The EuroCup has very good teams, especially in our group, and in every game, we have to be 100% focused. But that is what we practice for, to play against great teams and all that stuff. We're happy to compete here but, you know, we didn't play basketball for six months, so it has been a tough start for me and my team, Lietkabelis Panevezys. We will bounce back fast and try to play better and show better basketball. That's what we're looking for, but so far, I am happy to play in this competition and to compete against some of the best teams in Europe.
We are 0-2 right now and in both games, we competed really well in the first half, but things were different after the break. It is the first time in my time with Lietkabelis that we played against such good teams and we fell apart in the third quarter in both games. It is unbelievable; it is hard to understand. It is hard to explain why because we are trying to play at the same level all game long, but now, we are struggling so much in the third quarter, two games in a row, after two great quarters. So that is our main problem right now and we are watching a lot of videos, trying to look at our mistakes and what we did the last time, why we struggled so much in the third quarter. And we just have to be patient. We have to be focused 120% against such good teams and just do the basic things, like our coach is saying every day: box out, stop the fast breaks and just don't make stupid mistakes. That's our main goal right now.
We will face Lokomotiv Kuban at home next week. Loko has two very famous Lithuanian players, Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Mantas Kalnietis. When I was growing up, Kalnietis was the Lithuanian national team's point guard and he is still up there. I was a teenager, a kid when I started to watch how he plays. I am from Kaunas, he is from Kaunas. I played in Zalgiris... he played in Zalgiris! So he was like my role model: I saw how we played and he is a true legend here in Lithuania, one of the best point guards of all-time. For me, playing against him is another great competition and I am looking forward to it. But we have to show our best game against Loko and we will see what happens. Still, it is always good to play against these Lithuanian guys like Kuzminskas and Kalnietis. We're not the best friends, but we played a couple of games together with the national team in February. It was a very nice experience. He is a great guy and I am happy to see him again and play against him.
One of the great things about this team is that I get to play with my brother, Marius. When we were younger, that was our dream, to play together on a high-level team, to practice every day together, to play together, to be together on the court. That was our dream and that dream came true. Of course, we went to reach even higher goals together. Now he's missing the start of the season because of an injury, but he will try to play, I think, in a couple of weeks, so I am waiting for him. The team is waiting for him, so the feeling to play with your brother and be on the same team is unbelievable, because this is a dream come true. I think that if you have a brother and you play basketball, playing with him at this level is an unbelievable feeling.
Some people ask me about my number, 66, which is not very common, so I will tell you why I wear it! At the start of my career, I was playing with No. 6, but in my second year with Zalgiris, Axel Toupane came to the team. He was coming from the NBA, is a great guy, and asked me to give him that number. I was a young player, so I decided to give him that number. I wanted to wear a similar number, so I picked No. 66, a not-so-traditional number. And then I started to play better that season so I decided to keep 66. Now, I really like the number and there are not a lot of players wearing 66! I am happy to have it, and I will stick with it. By the way, my brother Marius used to wear No. 9 and now he changed to 99. He is not telling me why he picked 99, but it is 66 upsides down, so maybe I would say there is a connection between us when it comes to jersey numbers.
I am in a good situation with this team. First of all, I would like to reach the best version of myself and I feel that, until now, I haven't reached that level, because I want to improve more. I want to play at a high-level, on great teams and everything. When I was younger, no-one talked about me like I was ready. People thought that I didn't have so much potential, but I had my goals, my dreams, and just kept working. I told myself I will keep working and see what happens. So I don't know, maybe some people realized that I can play basketball and I'm trying to prove to everybody that I can be a good player.
We play our next two games at home. The situation is unclear with COVID-19; every day, things are changing, so we will see if we will be playing with fans or not. It is a little bit confusing but I can tell you this: when the gym is full of fans and they support you, they cheer for you, it's the best feeling. When you play against a very good team and you have your fans cheering for you, it's great. So we are looking forward to it. Safety is first these days, but home games are the best games!