From a suit-and-tie office job to the World Cup: The story of Gabas Maldunas
MANILA (Philippines) - Representing your country at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 is a dream come true for many players, but the unlikely story of Gabrielius Maldunas fits the bill like no other.
There's that famous line from the 1990s movie Trainspotting, "choose your life, choose a career" and Lithuania's 30-year-old big man had two careers to pick from.
In fact, he went through a free trial period in a bank before choosing basketball.
"I HAD TWO CHOICES: TO PLAY PROFESSIONALLY OR DO SOMETHING WITH MY ECONOMICS DEGREE."
"It's amazing. It's hard to believe what I've been through, and to finally come here and represent my country at the World Cup, it's definitely a dream come true," the man they call Gabas told FIBA.basketball while standing tall in the colorful green-and-yellow jersey in Manila.
His facial expression matches the sentiment about that dream coming true. If it weren't for his ears, that smile would've gone 360 around his head, Maldunas is just contagiously positive and optimistic while telling his story.
"I graduated from Dartmouth College in the US with an economics degree, and then I had two choices: to play professionally or do something with my economics degree," he explained.
"I tried to play in the second division in Spain for two years; my second year wasn't that great, and then I got an offer to work for a bank in Lithuania. I thought maybe the basketball career path is not for me, so I chose banking."
At 2.04m (6ft 8in), he was most probably the tallest banker in Lithuania back in the summer of 2017.
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For a month or so, Gabas changed his morning routine from lifting weights to talking mortgages, amortization, bonds, collateral, escrows and whatever else the bankers lingo has to offer. We just googled those, none of us know what it means, but Maldunas does.
"You wake up early in the morning. Suit and tie, go to work at 8am, work till 5 or 6 pm, go home. Regular office day," he described his office life back home in Lithuania.
With an Ivy League diploma and an athlete's competitive mindset, rest assured he would've had a successful banking career. But luckily, he decided to give basketball one more chance.
"Basketball is in my heart."
Maldunas playing against #1 NBA Draft pick Victor Wembanyama in the Qualifiers
Nevezis Kedainiai, a club in Lithuania, called Maldunas to join their preseason camp ahead of the season.
That was all he needed. Once he saw the ball go through the net again, he knew that the only banking he'll do over the next six years would be when he's shooting off of the backboard on the basketball court.
Nobody in the office was caught off guard when he ditched the formal attire and went back to sleeveless jerseys and shorts.
"My coworkers all knew that I played. And they actually weren't too surprised when I went back to basketball."
His trademark on the floor is the little push shot, that floater from in between lines, which makes you think of a profile like the Greek legend Georgios Printezis. Maldunas grew from strength to strength, spending two years with Nevezis before getting a call from his hometown club Lietkabelis in 2019.
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He has been consistent in all four seasons there, making a name for himself as a big man with quick feet who isn't afraid to step out on the perimeter in switches. This stellar defensive work is exactly what Lithuania need at this World Cup, with Maldunas offering a coach Kazys Maksvytis a different option to the likes of Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas on the defensive end of the floor.
"When you play for Lithuania, for these colors, this uniform, you always wanna achieve the maximum. I feel like we have a good group of guys, we're missing a bunch of players, but we got a good core," said Maldunas.
"Our main strength is Jonas (Valanciunas) inside, that's obvious, and if we can find that balance between inside and outside, I think we're gonna be okay."
A winning start to the competition suggests they should be more than okay and if they find the inside-outside balance in the Mall of Asia Arena, Lithuania's place in the next round sounds like money in the bank.