Welcome to the NBA, Sarunas
Rookie season full of adjustments, distractions for Pacers' Jasikevicius
Jan 8, 2006
By Mark Montieth
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- This isn't what Sarunas Jasikevicius thought he was signing up for.
Inconsistent play, the distraction of Ron Artest's sudden trade demand, an offense that features more one-on-one isolations than true team play have all disappointed the European legend, who crossed an ocean to chase his dream of playing in the NBA when he signed with the Indiana Pacers during the summer.
Thirty games into his season, the 29-year-old rookie has no regrets. The NBA was something he had dreamed of experiencing since he was a boy. As so often happens, however, reality hasn't lived up to the dream.
"I'm enjoying it, I really am," said Jasikevicius, whose next NBA chapter comes tonight in Sacramento, where the Pacers play the Kings. "But this is a players' league. In Europe, we played differently. We might not be so good individually, but we played more as a team. That's been very frustrating."
Pacers president Larry Bird, who scouted Jasikevicius for two seasons before signing him to a three-year, $12 million contract last summer, relates to Jasikevicius' pain. He appreciates the European game more than the modern NBA game in some ways, too.
"I feel for his frustration," Bird said. "I see it, too."
"He's won three (European) championships. He's been on teams that are very unselfish, move the ball, and play hard every night."
Bird's preference isn't for Jasikevicius to adapt to the NBA's robotic mold. It's to develop a Pacers team that more closely fits the European style, as Detroit and San Antonio do.
"They're tied in, they play together, they go for the wins," Bird said. "I'd love our team to do that."
Jasikevicius mixes comfortably with his teammates and front office employees. He likes Indianapolis and appreciates not living the harried public life of a national hero, as he did when he played in Tel Aviv, Israel, the past two seasons.
He's more accustomed to a faster pace, however, on the court and off. He misses the extreme passion of the Israeli basketball fans. He misses his Israeli girlfriend, Linor Abergil. And he misses playing a game where, if you pass the ball and find an open spot, you get it back -- as opposed to dropping a pass into the low post and watching someone go one-on-one.
Jasikevicius is averaging 9.2 points in 23.7 minutes, shooting .429 from the field, .396 from the 3-point line and .920 from the foul line.
Jasikevicius says it's too early to know whether he'll want to return to Europe after his contract expires.
"The season is very long," he said. "Cleveland (where he almost signed) is going without distractions and the Pacers have had so many distractions the team could not reach its full potential. But better days are coming."
He's got a point
Sarunas Jasikevicius has been all over the map in his 30 games with the Indiana Pacers. He's started 10 games at shooting guard and three at point guard and played both positions while coming off the bench in the other 17 games.
His preferences are clear.
"I don't care about starting," he said. "I just want to be a point guard. I want to have the ball. I don't mind playing shooting guard some, but I don't want to be a shooting guard period."
In the 20 games Jasikevicius has come off the bench or started at point guard, he has averaged 9.5 points while shooting .479 from the field and .478 from 3-point range.
In the 10 games he has started at shooting guard he has averaged 8.1 points while shooting .347 from the field and .262 from 3-point range.
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle recognizes the difference but is dealing with several injuries.
"His greatest consistency has come at backup point," Carlisle said. "But we're going hour to hour here. Things can change quickly either way."
-- Mark Montieth