|Marius Grigonis: "We need a medal. It doesn't matter so much what colour, but we need a medal."|
By Dimitris Kontos
Just like pretty much any child born in Kaunas, the young Marius Grigonis dreamt of one day pulling on two much-adored green jerseys, those of Lithuania and of Zalgiris.
Unlike the vast majority of those kids, Grigonis, who is leading Lithuania in scoring at the U20 European Championship after the first round of the tournament, realised both these dreams at a relatively young age.
He was formed at the Arvydas Sabonis school and became an international player in 2010, helping Lithuania clinch the silver medal at the U16 European Championship.
The 20-year-old small forward then debuted with the senior Zalgiris team in 2013, while he kept climbing up the ranks at Lithuania's youth national teams, playing in two U18 European Championships and the FIBA U19 World Championship of 2013.
Zalgiris loaned him to Spanish LEB Oro (second division) side Penas Huesca last season in what was the beginning of an end of an era for the Kaunas native.
At the end of the U20 European Championship on Crete, on 21 July, Grigonis will have terminated the youth stage of his career and will be considered, for all effects and purposes, a senior player.
fibaeurope.com caught up with the leader of the Lithuanian U20 team shortly after he had helped his team secure their place in the Second Round of the tournament in Greece.
Is there a special taste to this tournament for you? Does knowing that it will be your last youth tournament with Lithuania make it any different to the previous ones?
This national team will be missed of course, it's always the best feeling to play with these guys, most of them are my friends. It's a great feeling to play for Lithuania and this is the last championship, we want to end it as best we can.
What exactly would be a good way to end it?
Of course we need a medal. It doesn't matter so much what colour, but we need a medal, for sure.
Do you feel the same pressure to win from fans back home even at youth level?
Yes, for sure, because Lithuanians are crazy for basketball and we need to win always. It's the same at every age, it doesn't matter if it's the senior national team or the U20 national team.
What is your best memory of the previous youth tournaments you played in?
What are your plans for the period of your life that starts when you board the plane to leave Crete?
I am a free agent, but it's difficult to say something because I don't know where I am going to play. I just hope it will be for a good team, under good conditions, but I don't know where. Playing for Zalgiris is a dream, for sure, but for me right now the best is to play, not to be at Zalgiris and sit on the bench.
From the outside, you don't seem to be affected by this professional uncertainty.
Clubs and everything else don't matter right now, I only think about the [U20] national team and want us to get a medal here, that's all for me right now.
Have you spoken with coach Jonas Kazlauskas? Will you take part in Lithuania's training camp for the FIBA Basketball World Cup?
No, I haven't. I don't think so.
Have you given any thought to this transitional stage from playing every summer for a youth national team to waiting for a call-up to a very competitive senior national team?
It will be a new experience to have a free summer, although I am going to miss it if I don't play for the national team. But I will train somewhere, it will be a new experience and I will try make the best out of it.
What if you are on holiday somewhere far and coach Kazlauskas changes his mind at the last moment?
It doesn't matter, it's the national team, and you are always available to play for the national team. Lithuania is above holidays, above everything, always.