Domantas Sabonis: ''I'd like to play next summer and help the guys''
INDIANAPOLIS (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers) - Domantas Sabonis is turning into a top flight NBA big man with the Indiana Pacers and that's great news for Lithuania, who will be hoping to have the 21-year-old back in their lineup this summer.
The 6ft 10in (2.08m) center, who missed his country's FIBA EuroBasket 2017 campaign after being traded by the Oklahoma City Thunder to Indiana, is averaging 12.0 points and 8.0 rebounds through 30 games so far. He'll be unavailable for Lithuania's World Cup Qualifiers at home against Hungary and Kosovo in February but hopes to feature in the June 28 game at Poland and the July 1 clash at Hungary, and also in Second Round games in September.
He talked to FIBA.basketball.
Are you aiming to play for Lithuania next summer?
Yes, for sure. I'm Lithuanian and I want to represent my country. I'd like to play next summer and help the guys, both in June and September if possible. I'd need to talk with the team (Indiana) about it, but if possible, I'd like to play. The summer windows are just a couple of days long and we shouldn't need much time to get ready for those games.
"I'M LITHUANIAN AND I WANT TO REPRESENT MY COUNTRY. I'D LIKE TO PLAY NEXT SUMMER AND HELP THE GUYS" Sabonis
What about Lithuania's 99-61 win at Kosovo and 75-55 home triumph over Poland in November?
I think they played very well and were unselfish and shared the ball during the first two games. There's nothing better than winning the first two games of a qualifying campaign to gain confidence. It's a great start and I follow their games very closely. We still have four (First Round) games to play, four finals, and we want to make it to China (World Cup 2019). With the group of players we have, the coaches and our fans, we have everything in our hands to make it happen.
Why didn't you play at the EuroBasket?
Before being traded, I was supposed to play with the national team. I was supposed to play in the NBA Summer League and fly to my country to get ready for the start of the training camp, but the trade happened and I had to change my plans. The Pacers asked me to stay to get ready in the United States because I was a new player in the team. So I had to change my plans. I worked hard last summer, but I'm planning on coming to play with the national team very soon.
Has playing at EuroBasket 2015 and at the 2016 Olympics boosted your career?
It helped me a lot, mostly on gaining experience faster than some other guys of my age, but also to learn and understand what it takes to win games and be more competitive. I've already been to a EuroBasket Final, and to a Quarter-Final at the 2016 Olympics, so it's great. I learned a lot so far by playing for the senior national team and competing against the best players in the world. Playing with your national team is a source of pride, and competing in the best competitions is a great opportunity to learn faster and get adjusted to the top level. Those experiences were priceless.
Sabonis played at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games
Lithuania are a traditional power in Europe. What are this national team's prospects moving forward?
The team is very good, the dynamic is very positive and we're growing up in terms of competitiveness. The young guys, the NBA guys and all the veterans and the ones that play in Europe want the same thing: help Lithuania be a very solid team and keep improving. We've been doing well the last couple of years, but we always want more. We have a lot of room for improvement, and we're excited about both the present and the future. Lithuania's youth national teams, the academies and the different teams have been doing very well for a while so the work is being done and we have a great future in my opinion.
"I LEARNED A LOT SO FAR BY PLAYING FOR THE SENIOR NATIONAL TEAM AND COMPETING AGAINST THE BEST PLAYERS IN THE WORLD" Sabonis
Lithuania were runners-up at EuroBasket 2013 and 2015, and reached the Round of 16 this year. What's preventing this team from capturing a first crown since EuroBasket 2003?
Maybe a bit more luck (smiles)? Every year we have some injured guys or guys that can’t play, but we're positive and excited for the future as we know we can compete against the best teams. Seeing Slovenia win this summer is a good example of that. They kept working hard the last couple of years and were able to win the crown in September. We can win a gold medal and titles in the future and we'll work hard to reach those goals.
And what about playing center for Indiana?
I feel more comfortable playing the 5. I think that I can contribute and help with a little bit of everything on the court. When I played at power forward (at Oklahoma City), I was a bit out of the paint, and now I have a better vision of the game and I have more impact on it.