Maccabi Tel Aviv welcomes Fenerbahce for Gameday 6 of Euroleague action on Thursday at 9pm at Yad Eliyahu. The Yellow & Blue will look to stay on the winning track after defeating Khimki Moscow in Russia last week in a game that went to overtime while the Istanbul squad will try to break a 3 game losing streak in Israel.
Fenerbahce made a number of changes to their roster as well as at the helm with Igor Kokoskov taking over for Željko Obradović which are certainly big shoes to fill.
One of the new players on board is veteran forward Edgaras Ulanovas who arrived from Zalgiris after playing his entire career in Lithuania. The Sports Rabbi interviewed the 28-year old who is making his first foray outside the borders of his birth country.
“It’s a great feeling with my new teammates, the staff and the entire club as well as the city and lifestyle in Istanbul. Everything is great. I knew one day the time would come when I had to try something new and have new experiences. I am happy to be a part of it. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make as I spoke to the head coach and my family and friends. They all agreed that this was a good decision. I’m happy.”
Ulanovas played with Zalgiris for the past six seasons and obviously a move to a new system and domestic league will be a place where he can learn and expand his repertoire of play while also being familiar with playing in the top continental competition, “In the Euroleague there are no easy games and you need to forget your wins and losses. You can’t look back at yesterday but only ahead to tomorrow. Every year is the same. Kokoskov’s a very good person and coach and has had some very good experiences both in the NBA and in International basketball. We are all together and we are learning and growing from our mistakes. I am enjoying my time with him so far.”
Over his career in the Euroleague, the Kaunas native has averaged 9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 24.6 minutes per game while averaging 37.4% from beyond the arc as he is known for his fiery play and passion on the court, “I bring what I do best and that’s energy and be a good teammate. We have some great and talented players on our roster and some won the Euroleague title. I am here to help and do my best. The season just started and we are only at the beginning.”
Between 2016-20, Ulanovas played under coach Šarūnas Jasikevičius at Zalgiris who moved to Barcelona this season.”Saras” as he is known was also a star player throughout his playing career in Europe, “It was a great experience to work with someone who understands basketball so well and you can’t find another example of a person who is close. He focussed on the small details and that really helped my career. There are many things that I use from my time with him in the years that we were together as I formed various habits, good habits. I am trying to learn now as much as I can from my new coach.”
Ulanovas didn’t pattern his game after any one individual player but took pieces from many, however, he still had a soft spot for the late Kobe Bryant, “I don’t have one idol, perhaps Kobe Bryant who passed away but I have a lot of good examples in Euroleague who I have taken things from. Not every player is perfect so I try to take little by little and do the best myself.”
As part of the Lithuanian National Team program, Ulanovas will take part in the upcoming European qualifying games during the pandemic with will create some challenges but has faith in the system, “It doesn’t matter what I think as they decided to do what they want to do. The rules are the same for everybody and most importantly is everybody’s health. If we play I hope my national team will win.”
As for Fenerbahce’s game at Maccabi Tel Aviv, the forward is well aware that his team won’t have an easy time as they try to get back in the win column, “They have talented players and some who are in very good shape at the moment including Scottie Wilbekin and Tyler Dorsey. In addition Ante Zizic, Othello Hunter and Angelo Caloiaro are playing well and we will have to match that and we must learn from our mistakes and do better. We have lost three in a row and it’s not a good feeling and we need to do as much as possible to take the win.”