Rokas Jokubaitis on the NBA: ‘When I feel that I have taken everything from Europe, I’ll think about it’

Miguel Lois Vidal
2022-02-17 11:30
Credit: AP, AFP - Scanpix, T.Matijoška | BasketNews illustration/A.Zaikauskas
Credit AP, AFP - Scanpix, T.Matijoška | BasketNews illustration/A.Zaikauskas

FC Barcelona's practice has not started yet. Nick Calathes is alone in the court alongside Darius Maskoliunas, Jasikevicius' assistant coach doing a shooting workout. The Greek brain misses just a few field goals. 

Rokas Jokubaitis enters the court, explosive as he is, prepared for a talk with BasketNews a few hours before the Spanish Copa del Rey. 

"You shoot, I speak," says Rokas to Nick. 

Rokas Jokubaitis

Rokas  Jokubaitis
Team: FC Barcelona
Position: PG
Age: 21
Height: 192 cm
Weight: 88 kg
Birth place: Mažeikiai, Lithuania

Calathes is like the godfather in Barcelona's locker room. Everyone admits it. He is always making jokes, helping others, and teaching them in and off the court. 

"He is fun," confesses Jokubaitis, a 21-year-old guy who seems to be 35 in the court and even older when talking. He shows maturity.

BasketNews sat down with Rokas to talk about his journey, how he is working on his weaknesses, what is going on with his Spanish, and more other topics.

The guy who needed to travel more than an hour to play basketball in Klaipeda is shining in Barcelona. Would you have ever imagined it?  

When I was younger, I could not expect everything to change like this. When I went to Klaipeda, I just played for fun. I was never an incredible dreamer.

I never expected to be the best, I went step by step. It was just six years ago. At that moment, I wouldn't have said that I would be in Spain right now in one of the best clubs in Europe. Life is amazing. I am very happy. The journey continues.

What sacrifices have you made?

As every professional basketball player, you lose some free time with friends and family. I left my home town to play basketball. It's hard because you need to go practice instead of spending time with your friends and family.

But I can't imagine my life without it, staying late in the court, improving your weaknesses, working on your skills… This is my daily life. 

Ricky Rubio always says, "never too high, never too low". How important are mental issues in sport? 

A lot. I do not work specifically on it, but when I am thinking about how I grew in the last years, I realize how prepared I am right now. Here in Barcelona, I have one of the greatest coaches. He is really strict. When I started with him in Kaunas at 16 years old, I didn't understand what he expected from me.

When he shouted, it was difficult for me to know what he was asking for. I compare myself now, and I have grown a lot since then. I just hear the things from what he wanted to say. Some people do not understand when he shouts at me.

I don't really hear the yell, only the things he tells me to improve. As a person, you start to grow faster. When you work with him, you improve mentally. It comes day by day. Right now, I feel that I have never been so mentally ready as I am now.

Like all the lefties, right-hand skills are one of the most common weaknesses. How much are you working on it? 

I work on my weaknesses all the time. My focus now is on 3-pointers after dribble, right hand, and defense. Saras knows my weaknesses, he said: 'you need to work on it'.

I am doing extra work with this. Also, as a point guard, I am trying to improve some movements. When you have free time during the season, you need to do that. You can't stay in the same spot. There are a lot of good players who can outscore you. 

The question everyone is waiting for… How is your Spanish going? 

(Laughs) Bien, muy bien (good, really good). 

Is Sergi Martinez a good teacher?

He taught me some things, but there are a few that I can't say here on the court. Most of my people ask me how my Spanish is going. I am learning it, but honestly, I do not have too much time.

It's not an excuse. I am on it. I try to listen myself, trying to catch one word. But I am not like Nigel Hayes, he is extremely good at languages. 

I see you have a good relationship with Nick Calathes. What are you learning from him? 

I have a lot of things to learn from him. It's easy to communicate with him. He is one of the greatest if not the greatest point guard in EuroLeague history.

He did not play for a few months, but he came back showing his passing ability. It's crazy. I see why big guys love to play with him. He is an incredible player. I was happy before coming here that I would be able to practice and compete against him, and now I am even happier to share this journey.

Which players inspire you? 

I would say Dimitris Diamantidis from PAO. Maybe Goran Dragic too. Actually, all the lefties point-guards are similar to me. I don't try to be like LeBron James (laughs).

You will face BAXI Manresa on Friday. Why is it so difficult to play against them?

They are a good running team. They do not give you the first option, they pressure the point guards. In the two games this season we could not play our style. We made many turnovers. But we know how to play against them. This is the magic of the Copa, game-to-game. We will be as motivated as we could be. 

We were talking before about how demanding is Sarunas Jasikevicius as a coach. He was a key factor in the summer to bring you here. Do you talk frequently?  

We talk, obviously. I can feel that he feels that I believe in myself, that I am ready for this level. He trusts me more and more. Sometimes a specific conversation is not needed, you just feel it.

I guess you are following Zalgiris Kaunas' season. A weird one… 

Yes… I watch every game, especially in the EuroLeague. There was kind of expectation at the beginning of the season, but not as bad as it is going.

We have to keep believing. They won in Monaco. Now the Cup is waiting for them. Hopefully, they will finish the season on a higher note. It is a difficult time, but everyone goes through this.

Zalgiris did not stop believing, and I would not stop believing. We cheer for them. We believe in them.

When you see players like Usman Garuba or Leandro Bolmaro struggling in the NBA, not having as many minutes as they would love to… What comes to your mind? 

What I understood now and did not understand before is that there are a lot of players who come back to Europe, which means that maybe they were not prepared 100% for the NBA.

When I feel that I am fully prepared and I have taken everything from Europe, then I will think about going there. I am not saying that I am not ready, but I am focused on other things.

So is there a hope of seeing you next year in Europe? 

We will see.

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