Credit: BNS
Credit BNS

Zalgiris Kaunas newcomer Janis Strelnieks appeared on the BasketNews podcast URBONUS.

Janis Strelnieks

Janis  Strelnieks
Team: Zalgiris Kaunas
Position: PG
Age: 32
Height: 191 cm
Weight: 85 kg
Birth place: Talsi, Latvia

The 32-year-old reflected on his career, basketball idols, NBA offers, an impressive list of past teammates, Latvia's painful experience with FIBA windows, and injuries.

Strelnieks discussed the players he looked up to as a young player and listed four great point guards.

"Diamantidis, for sure. And even Jasikevicius was a perfect example if we look not so far from Latvia. Of course, Spanoulis, I got to know him when I went to Greece. Even Tony Parker, because my first European championship in 2011, we played against France, and I had to guard Parker. It was unbelievable. There was no way you could guard him. I think he had 30 points, at least."

Strelnieks elaborated about Spanoulis and his experience of playing with the Greek legend with Olympiacos.

"All I saw was how mentally strong he is. He can play a terrible first three quarters, and then when the time comes in the last quarter, you have just to give him the ball because he knows how to close games. Of course, he was demanding from other players. Everybody respected him. He always tried to show us a way to win games. Even in the last years, when he got older and wasn't as fast, but his work ethic was at the top level, and everybody could learn from that. If you wanted to talk about basketball, you could always talk to him."

The Latvian guard also touched on playing in Bamberg for Andrea Trinchieri and learning a lot from this basketball specialist.

"Andrea Trinchieri is very demanding. From the first day. I finished a season with a Ukrainian team, Budivelnik, and moved to the EuroCup in Bamberg. People thought it wasn't a good decision, but it was the best decision I made at the end of the day. We played in the EuroCup, won the German league, and qualified for the EuroLeague. It was a good three years, and I had a good time in Bamberg. How Trinchieri sees basketball and how he can motivate you is amazing. He taught us a lot about spacing and wanted everything to be perfect."

When asked about receiving an offer to play in the NBA and the San Antonio Spurs specifically, Strelnieks said that he and his agent discussed this opportunity. Still, according to Strelnieks, he never seriously considered playing overseas.

"It was during the season, so I never really considered moving somewhere else. I know my agent always wanted me to at least go there and try, but I like the basketball that we play in Europe more than the NBA. I am not so athletic, so it would probably be really hard for me to adjust."

Regardless, Strelnieks played alongside some fantastic players during his career. He had difficulty singling out the five best players he's had the pleasure of playing with.

"I could make like two teams. I would for sure put Darjus Lavrinovic on my team. I played with him in Budivelnik, and it was so easy. He always knew when to pop, when to roll. I think I got five or six assists per game only through him. I could also include many players from Bamberg because the team chemistry back then was amazing. Bradley Wanamaker, Darius Miler. I would also include Spanoulis. Also, the entire CSKA team - Will Clyburn is a perfect player to the team. It's a difficult task to pick just five players."

Another great player Strelnieks played with was Patrick Beverley, an absolute defensive juggernaut from the start.

"I think in the first practice, I got four turnovers in the first five minutes because I tried to crossover the ball in front of him, but it didn't work. We were both young. His hands were so quick, he knew how to play defense. We won so many games in the last minutes only because he stole the ball from the point guard at the half-court and went for easy layups. Sometimes, we even stayed to play one-on-one with one or two dribbles after practice, so it was a great experience. He was my roommate too."

Strelnieks wasn't too excited to talk about his experience in international FIBA competitions with Latvia. The team lost to the eventual champions, Slovenia, in the 2017 EuroBasket and didn't qualify for the 2022 EuroBasket.

"It hurts. To talk about it hurts. 2017 EuroBasket was our best tournament, we had high goals. But we lost to the team that won in the end. Everybody said it was like a final, but for us, it wasn't the case. That game could have gone either way. There was no defense in that game, it was about who could score more. 

Talking about the FIBA windows, it is very difficult for us because the EuroLeague players cannot even participate. NBA players too. Now the others have to step up, but it's hard for them to help us qualify to EuroBasket. Unfortunately, it didn't happen for us, and we didn't qualify."

Lastly, Strelnieks touched on the injuries that plagued him during the past couple of years and how he tries to avoid them.

"It's not easy, especially when the people around start to ask you about the injuries and start calling you injury prone. Then, you start overthinking about injuries. If you start thinking about it too much, it can become a real problem. Before, I didn't care about injuries, but now it bothers me a little bit. I try to stay mentally strong and not think about it that much. We have a good training staff of trainers in Zalgiris. I work with them a lot to try to prevent injuries."

Full conversation with Janis Strelnieks:

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