The Gem of Euro U18
It was Jonas Valanciunas’ teammate who stole the spotlight.
by Erildas Budraitis / @Erildas
As one of the top Lithuanian basketball players in his age group, Christian Life Center Academy forward Deividas Pukis (6-5, 220 pounds) was not afraid to leave his hometown, Silute, to meet some new challenges in the USA.
After winning the gold at the European U16 Championship, Pukis packed his stuff and flew to the States. After slow start, the Lithuanian became a starter and, now, according to ESPN, Pukis has offers on the table from Baylor and TCU.
Before the start of his final year in high school, the 17-year-old Pukis shined in the European U18 Championship. The sniper, in his first six games, made at least two three-pointers in each game and finished in double-digits in all of them.
Pukis, who averaged 15.7 points, 4 rebounds and 1.5 steals in just 24 minutes during the Euro U18, sat down with SLAMonline to talk about his basketball journey and future plans.
SLAM: Before you went to the States back in ’08, when you were just 15, you had already played in the second Lithuanian basketball league. Why did you decide to leave that good situation and go the USA?
Devidas Pukis: My coach, Steponas Kairys, offered me the opportunity to play basketball in the USA, finish school there, and maybe play in the NCAA. I was really interested, so I decided to leave Lithuania. Linas Kleiza also played there so I wanted to try it too.
SLAM: There are some players whose journey to the States was unsuccessful. Were you afraid that your scenario would be the same?
DP: No, I wasn’t. I’m a determined person, and I like challenges.
SLAM: Of course, things in the USA are not the same as in Lithuania. Have you felt a culture shock?
DP: Yes, it’s different. When I went there for the first time, it was hard because I was the only white guy on the team. Now, I’m ready for everything – for example, I don’t have problems speaking English, which was an issue at the beginning. However, right know I can say that I’m surrounded by very good people, and I’m glad.
SLAM: In the USA, basketball is more of an individual game and sometimes, especially for Europeans, it’s very difficult to adapt. What about you, did you have any problems with that?
DP: Yes, in the States, we are playing more one-on-one than in Europe, but it wasn’t a problem for me. I can adjust everywhere – no matter if it is European basketball or American.
SLAM: After two years in the States, can you say that you are happy there?
DP: I expected that I would get more playing time during my first season. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen because our team had a lot of great players. But this year I got a lot of opportunities to show what I can do on the court, and I’m happy with the situation.
SLAM: Two years ago, you were a role player for the Lithuanian U16 team, and now you’re one of the leaders. Did these two years in the USA help you improve your game that significantly?
DP: I don’t think so. For me this European competition is different — usually I start the game in the starting five, but, in this European U18 Championship, I’m the sixth man. I’m feeling comfortable with that – when I come off the bench I always try to inspire my teammates and do my best.
SLAM: With your most important year ahead, have you already received attention from any American universities?
DP: Yes, I have some offers at this moment, but I don’t want to call names. I could pick a school right know, but I’m still waiting for something better. We will see what will happen.
SLAM: Do you believe you can play in the NBA?
DP: Of course, I want to reach my highest goal – open door to the NBA. I will try to achieve this and we will see if I will be successful in the future. You never now what will happen.
SLAM: In your opinion, which parts of your game do you still need to improve the most?
DP: First of all, I want to improve my defense. I think it’s the main thing. Shooting technique and ball handling are also on my list.
SLAM: Are you a fan of the NBA? Do you have a favorite NBA team or player?
DP: I’m always interested when Lithuanians are playing. I was rooting for the Denver Nuggets when Linas Kleiza played there, and also for the Cleveland Cavaliers with Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Next season my favorites will be Toronto Raptors with Kleiza and Miami Heat with Big Z. And, talking about favorite player, I always liked young and talented guys. Right now my idol is Kleiza. I like the way he plays.