By Wendell Maxey, special to NBA.com
Posted Sep 13 2011 12:22PM
Believe it or not, Zaza Pachulia was actually concerned he would not make it through security and into any EuroBasket arena in Lithuania.
It had less to do with hobbling around with an injured lower calf muscle, sustained during Georgia's loss to Bulgaria, and more to do with the outdated photograph on the game credential hanging around his neck.
"Man, I think I was 16 years old in this picture. That's amazing," the Atlanta Hawks center and captain of the Georgia National Team said laughing. "I don't know how they even let me in here with this picture. I really don't understand."
At least Pachulia can laugh about something. He's been relegated to a spectator, watching games from the sidelines and nursing the pulled muscle in his left calf as Georgia struggles mightily without the services of both Pachulia and guard Giorgi Tsintsadze.
Tsintsadze severed the cruciate ligaments in his right leg against Macedonia, leaving Georgia with only 10 players left to compete in EuroBasket.
It's part of a frustrating last few months for Pachulia.
"I hate it. I really hate it, especially when you have a chance and you just can't help your team," said Pachulia, who is currently undergoing treatment on his calf. "Obviously your team needs you and that's the worst thing as an athlete is not being able to help your team, but injuries are part of the game."
Pachulia was averaging 13.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game before having to miss the remainder of EuroBasket when he experienced additional irritation in his calf.
Both the NBA lockout and a reported failed attempt to join New Jersey Nets' point guard Deron Williams with Turkish club Besiktas have left Pachulia with plenty of questions and concerns about his next moves. It's not a good feeling.
"The most frustrating part about the whole situation is not to be able to do something that you love and have been doing for years," Pachulia started. "Basically the negotiations (with Besiktas) started good, but once it was time to finalize the deal we couldn't agree on some terms. From there the deal was off."
Pachulia said once EuroBasket concludes, that's when planning for his basketball future truly begins -- regardless if it is overseas or back in Atlanta with the Hawks.
It's become a game of wait and see for Pachulia.
"I don't know yet ... after this I will go home and start thinking about what I am going to do next. But I am still hoping for the opening of the season in the NBA. Also I need to get my leg right, too. Nobody's going to want an injured player.
"The lockout is tough, because as a player you get into a routine -- October 1st, training camp starts -- but there is a lot going on with players and their mind and what they think about having a season or not. Mentally it's really tough, but we love this game and we love playing basketball. Hopefully we'll have a chance to play and the fans will have a chance to watch this beautiful sport."
Right now, Pachulia's basketball team from the other Georgia takes precedence.
"I am trying to be there to help motivate my teammates and it means a lot to them as well that I am here to support them."
Greece defeated Georgia 73-60 in the Group F matchup on Monday in Vilnius. Still, Pachulia finds enormous pride representing his national team. It almost makes dealing with everything else that much easier.
"This is the first time for Georgia to be a part of EuroBasket and it's a part of history that we qualified for this tournament. That means a lot for my country and these young players to be the first team sport ever to make a European championship in Georgia," explained Pachulia, who became a member of the national team as a teenager.
The photo of that kid still adorns his pass to get in and out of arenas.
"This is a good experience and we will be tougher because of this," Pachulia said.
Wendell Maxey is a freelance writer based in Germany.