Zygimantas Riauka (205-C-93, college: Wisc.-Parkside) is a 25 year old 205cm center from Lithuania playing his fourth professional season and first with the Dragons Rhoendorf (Germany-ProB). It has been a tough season for the Dragons Rhondorf with Riauka being one of the only bright spots as he belongs to one of the top big men in the Pro B currently averaging 16,6ppg, 12,4rpg and 3,5apg. Last season he played with Team FOG Naestved (Denmark-Ligaen) playing 30 games averaging 7.0ppg, 5.5rpg, FGP: 54.1%, FT: 72.9%. He began his career at Wisc.-Parkside (NCAA2) in 2011 and as a senior played 19 games averaging 14.5ppg, 7.9rpg, 2.8apg, 1.9bpg, FGP: 57.0%, 3PT: 36.4%, FT: 67.3%. He returned back to Europe in 2015 and played with El Olivar Zaragoza (Spain-LEB Silver) playing 26 games averaging 13.0ppg, 7.3rpg, 2.3apg, FGP: 57.5%, 3PT: 37.5%, FT: 79.7%. He remained in Spain and in 2016-2017 played with Caceres Patrimonio de la Humanidad (Spain-LEB Gold) playing 34 games averaging 4.6ppg, 3.8rpg. He spoke to eurobasket shortly before the start of the season about basketball.
Hi Zygi thanks for talking to eurobsket.com. Congrats on signing with German pro B team Dragons Rhondorf. You have played in Spain and Denmark in the last three years. What do you know in general about the country Germany and it’s basketball?
I know Germany is very big on soccer but also they are huge fans of Dirk.
You grew up in Illinois. What connections do you have to Lithuania and have you lived there when you were smaller?
I was born in Lithuania and moved to Chicago when I was 8 with my parents.
More than 5 years ago you played against Germany in the U-20 European championships winning 74-62 and you scored 6 points, had 4 rebounds and w assists. You played against many future BBL players like Kenneth Ogbe. What memories do you have of that game?
I don’t really remember playing against Kenneth, but I do remember they had a very strong and tall center at the time that I had to play against.
You have signed with the Dragons Rhondorf. With what kind of expectations are you coming to Rhondorf? You are a young player, but will be one of the oldest. Are you ready for that leadership role?
I’m coming to Rhoendorf with the expectation with contributing to the winning culture they had last year. I know it’s a young team but we are also very hungry so hopefully we will find our roles as the season continues but yes I am ready for the leadership role and I think that’s what the coach saw as well because he named me co captain this year.
The club was very high on your abilities, but what were the deciding factors that allowed you to chose the Dragons Rhondorf as your new team?
After I talked to the coach I was very happy of what he had to say and especially since he watched my games before so he knew what I can give to the team plus that I would be given such great conditions such as a shooting gun and practice time at the gym when needed.
Let’s talk about your game. You’re a big physical player that also has good game intelligence. If you had to compare your game to a Lithuanian player and NBA player who would best fit how you play?
From Lithuania I have no idea but from the NBA I would say Nikolai Jokic.
You were really a block monster in the NCAA 2 averaging 2,5blocks per game in your last two seasons. You haven’t averaged a block as a professional. Stats don’t always tell the whole story. Have you changed as a defender or will your block shotting tendencies come back again?
The last couple of years my blocks were down because I was always a little more hesitant on picking up fouls but this year coming off the bench I’m not going to worry about that
You’re a guy that can fill the stat sheet with ease, but what do you feel is a hidden strength in your game that doesn’t get noticed right away?
One thing that is hidden about my game is the way I throw the outlet pass
Last season you played with Team FOG Naestved (Denmark-Ligaen) playing 30 games averaging 7.0ppg, 5.5rpg, FGP: 54.1%, FT: 72.9%. It was kind of an up and down season. Some games you played a lot other games you didn’t. You hardly played a role in the playoffs as in the last 7 games you played a total of only 46 minutes. What positives could you take from the season?
One thing I learned about last year is just to support your teammates and wait patiently for your chance. It’s not always up to you if you are going to play but when you get the chance go and help the team no matter what role is given to you.
How valuable was it battling 275 pound beast Christopher Gabriel every day in practice? Did your physicality grow last season having to put up with him on the court?
Chris Gabriele has actually helped me drastically last season. I learned so much from him not only on the court but also off since we were living together I am very grateful for getting that opportunity.
Two seasons ago you played with Caceres Patrimonio de la Humanidad (Spain-LEB Gold) playing 34 games averaging 4.6ppg, 3.8rpg. This was the highest professional level that you ever played at. How challenging was the season for you having had a strong rookie season in the Leb Silver and then moving up a league and playing less minutes?
Playing in second league Spain was not that different from playing in 3rd league Spain. It’s just I wasn’t given as much minutes and I was brought there to play the 4 position but half way through the year they moved my back to center. I loved the city and the team
You split with FC Barcelona 2 and played against some well known veterans like Jordi Trias and Victor sada as well as future NBA player Rodions Kurucs. Were you in awe playing against this famous organization or wa sit just another game?
Unfortunately in my situation I had an incredible center at that time there Alexander Marcius or Sandi how we all called him so it was another great experience for me to learn from an older guy and to develop my skills defensively.
As a rookie you played with El Olivar Zaragoza (Spain-LEB Silver) playing 26 games averaging 13.0ppg, 7.3rpg, 2.3apg, FGP: 57.5%, 3PT: 37.5%, FT: 79.7%. What was your wake up call to being a rookie in Europe where you knew that you were very far away from home?
For me playing in Zaragoza was amazing. It was the first time ever in Spain and I was also on the second team. I became got home sick besides for missing my family and friends a little but for the most part I loved it since I got to finally play basketball and be considered a professional.
You played at Wisc.-Parkside (NCAA2) from 2011-2015. What were your fondest memories on and off the court?
My time in college was amazing I got to play for one of the best coaches I have had ever.
How did head coach Luke Reigel groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?
Coach Luke Reigel made my game what it is now and made me understand that you can’t just rely on one thing. You have to have multiple options to score instead of just relying on my right hand hook.
You played against many great players in your life, but which player was your toughest opponent that might be in the NBA now?
Growing up my biggest opponent would have had to be Frank Kaminski. We have had many great battles in high school and even once in college.
If you had to construct your very own NBA Rushmore which 4 heads would you pick old or new?
My NBA Rushmore would be Lebron, Jordan, Magic, and Shaq.
What is your personal opinion of the never-ending debate about who is better Lebron or Jordan?
I think lebron is better because he makes everyone better and does everything well much more well rounded player in my opinion.
Thanks Zygi for the chat.