Transformation is still going on

Marek Blazevic emerged on the European scene in 2018 in Belgrade when he led Lietuvos Rytas to triumph in the Euroleague Adidas Next Generation Tournament. In the following two years he has gained experience playing for Lietuvos in LKL and Eurocup before progressing to measure himself against the top echelon of players in the Euroleague. To achieve this, he had to make the move to Ritas’ arch rival Zalgiris Kaunas. Future Stars caught up with Marek who is trying to establish himself in his new demanding environment.

I think it is correct to state that you truly emerged on the international scene in 2018 in Belgrade when you led the U18 Lietuvos team to victory in the Euroleague ANGT. What are your memories from that competition and how important was this victory to starting your professional career?

Some of the best memories of my life are memories from that tournament. Not only basketball but lifestyle. I have made a lot of new friends which I’m still in contact with. I’m still talking to Azuolas Tubelis  and Augustas Marciulionis who I’m competing against.  Of course, I’m in contact with Coach Gronskis, sometimes we call each other asking how it is going. He helped me with my recent decision to join Zalgiris. Going back to basketball aspect of it, I came there as a fresh guy without any expectations. I didn’t know how much about that competition at that time. I was taking each game at a time and I wanted to compete at the highest level. We were underdogs. No one was expecting much from a bunch of kids from Vilnius, we weren’t even a big club. We went 8-0 and won the Championship. It was great experience for me, we made our dreams come true.

After that you played two successful seasons with Lietuvos in LKL and Eurocup. How difficult was your transformation from a successful junior into a professional player?

I think this transformation is still going on right now. It wasn’t maybe so hard to transfer my game in Lithuanian league as it was on international level. Perhaps I had a couple games in LKL when I thought it is not so hard. It was different in Eurocup, we made the Top 16 and we had some tough games. I had a great game against Monaco and you think it will always be like that. Then we had a game at Kazan, if we had won we would have made Top 8 and Raymar Morgan and other big guys are locking your ass up and you can’t do much. Then you realize how much work you must put in. The competition was tough but now it is even tougher because I came to Zalgiris and I see that Euroleague is on yet another level. So first, I needed to transfer my game to the Eurocup level, now I need to transfer my game to the Euroleague level.

What were you reasons behind your move to the Rytas’ arch rival Zalgiris? Zalgiris is a big European name across Europe, but there were plenty of massive names interested in you? I have heard that Robertas Javtokas was quite influential in this process.

Firstly was the prospect of playing in the Euroleague. Zalgiris was interested in me from the time I was 15 years old. Every summer they were asking me how is going on and maybe I would like to come to Kaunas. The first time when I came to Kaunas to look around the city, manager was Ginas Rutkauskas and then was Paulius Motiejunas. Every summer they were very interested in me, they were talking to my agent and my parents, they showed a lot of trust in me, they truly believed in me. It was Saras, it was Robertas, it was Paulius everyone was believing in me. If someone is believing in you, you a have chance to go to a high level. This is the highest level in Lithuania we are playing in the Euroleague beating teams from the top half of the table. What else do I need?

Your admiration for Coach Šarūnas Jasikevičius is well documented. He also played role in your move to Zalgiris but in the summer he left for Barcelona. Have you considered following him there instead of staying in Lithuania?

Well Barcelona was interested in me when I was 16 or 17 back then but I wasn’t very confident in myself and I preferred to stay in Vilnius. Talking about Saras, he is a role model for me, he is also a role model for me as a coach. You never what is going to happen. I need to work hard and maybe one year I will play for him somewhere in Europe

How would you asses your season at Zalgiris so far. The team is very successful in Euroleague but competition at your position is absolutely fierce.  When you were at Lietuvos you averaged almost 12 minutes and 7 points per game in LKL. which are great numbers for such a young player. Aren’t you worried that significantly less playing time at Zalgiris can adversely affect your progress?

Last couple of months were very tough for me but I need to face reality. In Vilnius it was perhaps easier for me. I’m not saying that I was getting some unfair treatment, but I was a local boy who made into the professional team and was doing really well. I was getting a lot of credit. Here it is different, I’m nobody and have to prove that I’m worthy of any playing time. I have to prove that I belong to this level. At the beginning it was very tough but now I realise what is required and I’m working towards that. You know the saying it is not important how you begin, its important how you finish. I have a lot of individual workouts, I’m watching videos, I’m making my body stronger. Maybe this season sucks from the point of minutes which I’m spending on the court. I’m sitting a lot but I’m investing into my body. Next year is the season to play for me and I’m really looking towards it.

When I have spoken to Arvydas Gronskis your coach at Lietuvos about you, he was telling me what a sensible, intelligent and organised person you are. He was always impressed with your realistic approach to life. What are your plans for the rest of your career?  How realistic is the move to the NBA?

Of course, you have to aim for the highest. However, it is not something which I have my heart on right now. First I must prove that I’m worth playing in the Euroleague. When I will prove that I can move on. I have plenty of time and I’m working every day to achieve that goal. I’m not talking here only about physical preparation but also about the mental side of the game. Everyday I’m learning something new, meeting new people and studying the game. I think it is only a matter of time. I don’t know how long it will take maybe 2-3 years or maybe ten years but I will be there.

Very recently we were talking to Dino Radja who was very critical about young Europeans going to the NBA too early and effectively ruining their careers. What is your view on this issue?

He is totally right. It is not about making the NBA, I want to go there and play there. Not to sit on the bench for a couple of years and then come back to Europe and mess around for some clubs and never find a happy ending. There is plenty of examples, look at Anzejs Pasecniks released by Wizards. He has got no club now. Dzanan Mussa and Marko Guduric probably went to early and are back in Europe too. I have to learn from it and go there where I’m really ready.