Knicks stash Rokas Jokubaitis talks Barca, honing his trade and keys to NBA success

Oct 28, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv will tipoff against Barcelona on Thursday night (21:05) as they will look to continue their fine play in Euroleague action. The Yellow & Blue enter the contest sporting a 4-2 record while the Blaugrana are a perfect 6-0 as they will look to continue their undefeated season.

Ahead of the matchup, The Sports Rabbi had the opportunity to talk to one of Barcelona’s young guns, Rokas Jokubaitis who joined Sarunas Jasikevicius’s team over the summer which was an eventful one for the 20-year old up and coming Lithuanian guard.

Saras Jasikevičius – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Jokubaitis began his career at Zalgiris going through the youth system and played his first years on the senior team under Saras. With the offseason move to Barcelona, the pair are now together once again and reunited Spain where he is averaging 5.2 points, 1.7 rebounds and 2.2 assist in 14 minutes over the course of 6 games in Euroleague action.

“It’s a real honor that he invited me again to be on his team. I have been here with Barcelona now for about 2.5 months and I am comfortable with what coach Saras and the staff wants of me. I am very happy here.”

Over the years the 6”4 guard has played both as a point guard and shooting guard, but explained that he prefers the 1 over the 2 having played both over the last couple of years, “I have always played the point guard position but last year I played shooting guard position. However, this season I am back to playing point guard and I feel more comfortable with that, but I can play both as a combo guard. With Saras I will play more as a point guard for sure.”

Rokas Jokubaitis – Photo Credit: Euroleague

Jokubaitis will be able to learn from a legendary point guard in Saras who will be able to most definitely influence the Mažeikiai, Lithuania as he continueds to mature into a top flight floor general.

“I am learning from him everyday. It’s good to have that opportunity as he was one of the best point guards in Europe. His suggestions and lessons work out very well for me on the court and I listen to him as he knows what to tell me. This combination gets good results on the court and I am still learning. As they say you live and learn.”

Another plus of playing with Barcelona is the fact that Jokubaitis will be able to also hone his trade with another all-time great point guard in Nick Calathes who has helped him since his arrival.

“It has been nice to be able to play with Nick, talk with him and practice against him. He’s a great guy on and off the court and we not only talk about basketball but about his career, what he had experienced when he was young. To have Nick as a mentor along with Saras is amazing as he is one of the best point guards in Europe today. I am happy to have that guy on and off of the court around me.”

Nick Calathes – Photo Credit: Euroleague

With a team loaded with likes of Nikola Mirotic, Cory Higgins as well as Calathes, Jokubaitis has modest goals for his first season in Barcelona, “Like you said, this team has superstars and great players who are very experienced and who have played Euroleague basketball for many years. My goal is not to be one of the top guys because we have so many good players and I am the youngest player. So I want to bring energy and compete in the practice and come off the bench and give my best. I want to do what we discussed with the coaches and improve every day, keep playing great basketball as we are all part of the team and we have to do our job and our role as best as we can.”

Jokubaitis was selected 34th overall in this past summer’s NBA Draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder and was immediately shipped off to the New York Knicks who are making sure to keep close tabs on him across the ocean.

“I feel very honored to have been selected and it’s an amazing feeling to be a part of a prestigious team and franchise. Right now I am in Europe but I am in contact with some of the players and coaches in the G-League who were with me during the Summer League. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Rokas Jokubaitis and Nick Calathes – Photo Credit: Euroleague

After the draft it was off to the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas where Jokubaitis had the opportunity to play with two up and coming Knickerbockers in Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley on his first tour of duty in North America, “It was a great experience not just on the court but for me to see a new country and learn a new culture as I had never been to the United States. I met some very nice people and played with the great players as well. They were the leaders of the Knicks Summer League team and I was able to learn some things from Quick as he is also a point guard. I played against him in the practices and both were juts really good guys.”

While at the Summer League Jokubaitis was also able to see the areas in which he will need to improve in order to make the jump to the NBA, “For me being a lefty I need to improve passing with my right hand as well as shooting 3-pointers off the dribble and spot ups. I also need to improve my defense because the physicality of the NBA is one of the most important aspects in order for me to be able to guard more athletic guys who are in the league.”

As for Thursday night’s Euroleague clash with Maccabi Tel Aviv, Jokubaitis understands that his team will need to play their “A” game in front of a hostile crowd and make sure they come ready to go, “They are the home team and just beat Zalgiris so they are motivated, everyone will be motivated. We will set up our game plan and I think when you play in such a great arena with great fans we will have to follow our game plan and not let their leaders play their game. We know that we will need to be physical to win that and keep our mentality at a high level.”

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