It's the last-chance saloon for Lietkabelis Panevezys going into this week, but with his brother, among others, back from injury, blogger Paulius Valinskas is full of confidence in his team as they visit Telenet Giants Antwerp on Wednesday.
Paulius Valinskas, Lietkabelis: 'It is our job to show character'
Hello again! We are playing our first do-or-die game of this 7DAYS EuroCup season against Antwerp. Of course, you feel some pressure but that is what you practice for. You work hard for these do-or-die games, all the time. That's the time to show ourselves as a team. Everybody is excited, and it is a must-win situation for us. We had a lot of problems, all season long, but were more competitive in the last two games. We had chances to beat Virtus and Lokomotiv. Everybody talked about them crushing us because we played without a full roster because of COVID, but we fought and had a really good chance to beat Loko. We were really tired against Virtus but also showed some progress, and improvement as a team, which is important for us.
Talking about our EuroCup season until now, I feel like we could have had more than one win. At the start of the competition, we didn't play our best games and lost some very tough ones. That is the toughest part, but we still have the chance to qualify. All we need to do is win a couple more games and we will be good, so I hope that is what is going to happen. We started to show some signs that we are playing better and better and then bam! Six guys were sick and after that, four more. We didn't practice with a full team for almost six weeks, so that's tough. Now, we have to go to Belgium to play a do-or-die game but we are professional basketball players and it is our job to show character, to show that we are the better team. We are going to Belgium to win.
One of the good things is that my brother Marius is also back and we have a chance to play together. It is very cool! When you get used to that feeling, to play with him on the same team, it sometimes feels like it is normal, that it is usual. But it is not normal. It's like God's gift to play together with your younger brother on the same team. Maybe it's the last season that we will play together; nobody knows. We just need to think about this time and to be thankful for this opportunity. I am very happy that Marius came back from his injury and I hope he will get his minutes and improve, too.
So, we need to be as focused and competitive as possible against Antwerp. Our main goal to stop their point guard, Kenneth Smith. He controls the whole team and I think this will be our main job. And, of course, stop their shooters. If we stop Smith, though, it will be easier to stop everybody else. He can score, pass the ball and do everything right. We have Kyle Vinales, who is also that kind of player. Both are talented and they play in the same position. That will be one of the biggest keys to the game, who wins that matchup. They are playing at home and will feel more confident.
Of course, I keep an eye on what Zalgiris is doing in the EuroLeague because some of my best friends play there. I believe this is very usual in basketball, and in sports; teammates become best friends off the court, too. You spend a lot of time with them between practices, games, trips and everything. You spend most of your time with your teammates. And if you play with someone for some years, your friendship gets stronger, and some of your teammates become your friends for the rest of your life.
Some of my best friends in basketball, after so many years with Zalgiris, are with that team. Lukas Lekavicius is one of my best friends. We spent a lot of years together in Zalgiris and played together in the second and first teams. We went on holiday together. I remember that when he was younger, nobody talked about him seriously but his dedication, working before and after practice, allowed him to be one of the best guards in Zalgiris history and make it to the national team. He is a great example of how a young player needs to work to succeed in basketball. Paulius Jankunas was my roommate. I know Marius Grigonis and all of the Lithuanian guys and we talk a lot. Maybe we talk less during the season because they have their problems to solve and we have ours, but we talk and discuss things on and off the court. Generally speaking, all Lithuanian players get along well. I don't know why that is. Maybe I can see that especially in Zalgiris and Lietkabelis, but I am sure also that other teams have great chemistry in the locker room, so maybe this is why. You always remember the good chemistry you had in that locker room.
Back to the game against Antwerp. We know we will play our last two games at home, against Andorra and Monaco, but are not even thinking about it. I don't know much about Andorra because I didn't play against them earlier this season. I hope that we can win in Belgium and then are able to talk about that game. If we close this group with two home wins, we will probably qualify to the next round, which would be perfect for us. I know what people may think, that we are one of the worst teams in this group, and not even thinking about us making it to the Top 16. This is an extra motivation for us: to prove those people wrong!