Credit: BNS, Rodolfo Molina - Getty Images, - Scanpix | BasketNews iliustracija/A.Zaikauskas
Credit BNS, Rodolfo Molina - Getty Images, - Scanpix | BasketNews iliustracija/A.Zaikauskas

The 21-year-old FC Barcelona youngster scores 9 points in the last quarter of the Copa del Rey final against rivals Real Madrid and gifts his team the first title of this campaign.

Rokas Jokubaitis

Rokas  Jokubaitis
Rokas  Jokubaitis
MIN: 17.88
PTS: 7.85 (61.4%)
REB: 1.88
As: 3
ST: 0.42
BL: 0.04
TO: 1.85
GM: 26

It sounds like a fairy tale, but in just a few months, we realized that this can be constantly expected from Rokas Jokubaitis, and it is enough to be surprised.

Having considered Zalgiris Kaunas' offer for a long time in the summer and doubted his playing time in Barcelona, Jokubaitis now looks like a veteran of the Catalan club, making elite player's decisions on the court and expressing Spanish vibes outside the basketball floor. Where does such peace of mind come from?

"I am very surprised myself how everything is going here, but there are very fun personalities in our team," Jokubaitis told BasketNews. "It seems like an elite club, but the people are very simple - from the administration to the players. Familiar coaches also add confidence. I feel like I belong here. As they say here, the younger brother of all. The Spaniards are fun people, they caught my vibe quickly, and that is reflected on the court. I feel the support of everybody."

The 1.92-meter guard, who is playing his debut season at Barca, is having an even statistically better campaign than last year in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. Currently playing for EuroLeague leaders, Jokubaitis is averaging 0.8 points (avg. 7.8 PTS) and 1.6 PIR (avg. 8.5 PIR) more than last season in Zalgiris, although he is playing three minutes less (avg. 17 MIN).

Jokubaitis is shooting on a 58% accuracy from the 2-point zone (65/112) and 58.6% from deep (17/29). These numbers are difficult to explain for the Lithuanian himself.

"It is a strange phenomenon. We all understand that 58 percent are not because I am a dangerous shooter," Jokubaitis admitted. "My shooting selection allows me to cheat stats. Really, I don't even know how I manage to do it, but it's fun that hard practice brings the results."

This week, Jokubaitis will demonstrate his talents in the Zalgirio arena. On Friday, the biggest hope of Lithuanian basketball will be met as an opponent for the first time.

March 11th is outlined in Rokas' schedule not only due to Lithuania Independence Restoration Day but also due to the exceptional evening ahead, until which Jokubaitis counted the days in recent months.

"It is a great excitement," Jokubaitis replied when asked what thoughts he met about the return to Kaunas. "What pleasantly surprises me this season is that the time is flying, and everything is going well. I remember, a few months ago, March 11th seemed a long way off, and now it's the upcoming match. Family friends are coming, it will definitely be exciting. If we manage to get a victory, it will be a fairytale. I look forward to seeing a lot of fans."

BasketNews' presents the conversation with Rokas Jokubaitis - about the unexpectedly successful start in Barcelona, the exceptional relationship with Jasikevicius, the war in Ukraine, the constant contact with the New York Knicks, and the awaiting huge challenge with the national team.

First of all, Rokas, how do you feel at this stage of the season in terms of both your current role/status on the team and your physical condition?
I feel great. We played well and recently won the Copa del Rey. It is already the second half of the season, all teams have acquired the best form. We have full of confidence. I really can't complain about anything, everything is perfect right now.

In the Copa del Rey final, you defeated the archrivals Real Madrid and did it the fourth straight time. Looking at the opponents' lineup, this seems like a phenomenal achievement. Can it be said that the Royal club is a suitable rival for you and Real feel the Barca complex?
We lost in the Spanish Super Cup, but we were in absolute control of that match, too, only giving away the game at the end. We can say that we have scouted them very well, we play with double motivation.

We can lose twice in a row to the Manresa club take a blow against UNICS, Baskonia, but when it comes to El Clasico, we turn on a completely different mode. Coaches don't need to motivate us then, we all understand the importance and play solid. There are many more El Clasicos left in the season, and we hope to keep the same line.

In Lithuania, the legendary Gigi D'Agostino hit "L'Amour Toujours" becomes integral to your dance. The start was during the match at Palau Blaugrana with UNICS, and later we saw you feeling the rhythm both during warm-ups and after winning the Copa del Rey. Is there prehistory to this song?
I remember hearing that song at the beginning of the season and asking our media guy if he had it in a playlist at Palau Blaugrana. He said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah."

I asked him to play it over the warm-up to have more fun. He started playing the song from time to time, but when it didn't play at Palau, we were losing or playing poorly. Now I don't need to remind, our eyes just meet, and L'Amour Toujours is playing (laughs).

Now you are the favorites to win both the EuroLeague and the Spanish League, and you can win the Triple Crown, which Barcelona only did in 2003. As for the EuroLeague, which rivals seem the most uncomfortable?
The Russian teams are no longer there, but UNICS were the most uncomfortable. It was hard to scare them and prepare something. AX Armani Exchange Milan as well. They don't show anything impressive but play very high-quality basketball, and we lost to them both times. I could add Olympiacos Piraeus, which is a defensive-oriented, well-organized team.

Before the season, the role of Leandro Bolmaro was quietly projected for you, playing in the EuroLeague for only 9 minutes on average. Jasikevicius himself has mentioned that he is surprised by your rapid adaptation. What do you think was most important for a quick integration?
It helped a lot that I knew the coach's system. Moreover, in the summer, I competed for Darius Maskoliunas with the Lithuanian national team, where we played similarly. I know what the coach is demanding.

He knows me; sometimes, he doesn't even need to shout, we both understand where I make a mistake, and I try not to do it a second time. I have been moving forward in the same regime since the start of the season. To be frank, I have a hard time figuring out how quickly this all happened here, but I think the most important thing was the quick connection with the coaches and the players.

What is your relationship with Jasikevicius in general? He seems to be very strict for you on the court, but after winning matches, whether it would be the Copa del Rey, we can see an extraordinary connection in the videos.
Yes, I have great respect for him as a coach. His methodology, as we know, is not for everyone, but for me, it is close to my heart. He squeezes the maximum out of me. I also got used to that scream. You need to pick up not the bad words but what he really wants to say.

You have to read between the lines, I don't hear the screaming anymore, and it's rarer now. I don't know why that is, but now we understand each other very well, and we get along really well off-court. We have common ground to talk about, especially now.

Jasikevicius told BasketNews that he has a three-year goal to make the best EuroLeague point guard out of you. What things does he emphasize to you in practice now?
I like the intensity, everyone is battling in the training sessions. I am constantly defending and attacking Nick Calathes and Nicolas Laprovittola. It is a great experience and a challenge.

In defense, we push opponents to the weak side, so I have to play a lot with my right hand, and it helps me a lot. I am starting to understand situations better with a weaker hand. After the team training, we pay attention to individual development, and here I mostly work with my shooting.

You are learning basketball secrets not only from Jasikevicius but also from Nick Calathes, who became the EuroLeague's assists leader. Do you notice situations where the views of these two legendary point guards differ?
There are many situations. Nick is now easier to watch because I only saw Saras on TV. But, for example, during practice, I seem to know where the ball should go to, but sometimes Calathes dishes such a pass that I'm left stunned.

He is well aware of Nikola Mirotic. If Mirotic has an average of about 17 points, more than half of them come from Calathes' passes. As we talk, for power forwards and centers, playing with Calathes is the best thing that has happened in their careers. He makes basketball easier. It is the fact that Nick is one of the best point guards in EuroLeague history.

We are talking at a time when we cannot distance ourselves from the war subject. How does the team follow the war in Ukraine and manage to distance themselves from it?
In Spain, all the news and stress do not affect those who live here as strongly as they do in Lithuania. There is not much panic here, but we are discussing those topics, sharing our impressions because we need to talk about it.

We are trying to convey the seriousness of the situation during the interviews, and there were strong words from Jasikevicius. We're trying to get people's attention to get them interested because there are some really scary things going on. It's hard to talk about things like that because neither you nor I even expected it to happen. Our thoughts are with the Ukrainian people.

The war also affected the EuroLeague, as three Russian clubs were suspended. Paulius Jankunas and Edgaras Ulanovas told BasketNews that they cannot see these teams in the tournament at all. What is your opinion on this?
I agree with Edgaras and Paulius. I don't see opportunities for them to come back. No one will want to play against them. I don't like to talk much on this topic, but I really support the words of Paulius and Edgaras.

I want to end the conversation in a better mood. You mentioned that the New York Knicks' representatives arrived in Europe in February. Have you met them?
They were in the Copa del Rey tournament, and we talked. They watched all the matches. I think they saw what they wanted to see, and now everything is in their hands (smiles).

In general, how is the communication with the Knicks going during the season?
Not bad. I expected less attention. The Summer League coach writes me, the assistants ask, and also said that there is a lot of talk about me through the agent. It's nice to have that kind of attention and keep in touch.

You said that you only think about moving to the NBA when you get everything from the EuroLeague. What needs to happen for you to think that way?
Some people thought this was my thinking about titles, but I meant something else. It will happen when I feel inside that I have reached my maximum in terms of my improvement.

There are many bad examples, like Kevin Pangos, who dominated in the EuroLeague. It's the NBA where even the best European players don't fit in. Two years or so will pass, and I'll talk to my agent about going to the NBA.

But before that, I'll have to feel 100 percent confident that at least I'll have a chance to fight for the minutes. For example, I come to the US, and they say that you will play in the G League, and sometimes you will be with the main team. Then it's better to improve in the EuroLeague.

There are players who openly say that they are EuroLeague athletes and don't see themselves in the NBA. How do you rate the playstyle across the Atlantic and your options there?
Now it's hard to imagine me there. But I didn't imagine myself in Barcelona before the season or in Zalgiris a couple of years ago. I don't always dream too much, I look at it from a realistic point of view. At the moment, I can't imagine myself in the NBA because there's another world out there, but I'd really like to try to establish myself in there.

Let's talk about the news of the Lithuanian national team. Mantas Kalnietis revealed to BasketNews that he retired from the Lithuanian NT, how unexpected was it for you?
I really didn't expect this from Mantas now, I thought he will play another tournament. I get along very well with Mantas, and I initially congratulated him on a wonderful career in the national team. It's nice that he thinks there is a good new generation.

But after a while, I realized there would be a lot of pressure on my shoulders. The national team is another thing, it is coached by three million people. There will be pressure from all over the nation, but such a challenge is fun, albeit demanding. I can only say that a very interesting summer awaits.

Maybe the fact that you will come to play with elite Lithuanians from an elite EuroLeague club adds confidence?
Yeah, I've already been on the national team and will be coming to it in the summer with even more experience.

Kazys Maksvytis took the helm of the national team victoriously. What impression does the game leave? And have you already talked to Maksvytis about the national team?
I talked to him a couple of months ago. We had a great talk, he is a warm-hearted, nice coach. In terms of the game, I watched all the national team matches and saw light basketball, which players enjoy. I guess it's a pleasure to play with Kazys, and I cannot wait to feel it myself.

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3-pointers this season

Points made: 9,0
Accuracy: 40,9%
Place in standings: 4
Record max: 14
Record min: 3
Most made 3FGs: Nicolas Laprovittola