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Thursday August 25, 2008 12:40 PM

Q & A with

Arturas Karnisovas



Rockets.com goes one-on-one with the team's new international scout

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer

HOUSTON - The Rockets recently tabbed Arturas Karnisovas as their new international scout. He assumes the role previously held by Gianluca Pascucci who left the club this summer to become the assistant general manager with Olimpia Milano.

A product of basketball-mad Lithuania, Karnisovas [pronounced Car-Nish-O-Vas] was kind enough to sit down with Rockets.com's Jason Friedman and spend a little time discussing his background, his country and his experience playing against the original Dream Team.

JCF: Tell us a little bit about your basketball background.

AK: I played for Seton Hall and played for P.J. [Carlesimo] for four years. Then I turned pro in ’94 and played in Barcelona, Bologna, Olympiakos, Athens and I played for the Lithuanian national team in the ’92 and ’96 Olympics.

JCF: So you got to play against the Dream Team then?

AK: I did. I got a chance to get crushed by the Dream Team (laughs).

JCF: So how was that experience?

AK: It was wonderful. I mean, I can’t watch Olympics without emotion ever again. I watched this Olympics and it was so exciting in terms of coverage and in terms of emotion when you consider what sports can do to politics; for a little bit everybody can forget some of the negative things and leave them behind.

In terms of the Dream Team, those people were icons. I remember when I was thirteen years old and when we first started watching videos around 1983 and '84. We watched Bird and Magic, the Celtics and Lakers, and we grew up watching this kind of quality basketball.

Then in '92, it was actually very emotional for our country because when the Soviet Union broke up, it was for the first time that we could compete as an independent country. Every game was a battle for pride.

Going back to the Dream Team, I think we were blown out by 45 or something, but we still idolized those players. I remember taking a picture with both teams on the middle of the floor and I was ecstatic. I remember seeing P.J. Carlesimo on the bench as an assistant coach and I was living the dream then (laughs).

JCF: Well I have to ask you: One of the amazing things about Lithuania is that it’s this country of about three million people, yet that doesn’t prevent it from being an international basketball power. It’s incredible.

AK: I think you have to look at the history. People say that we basically took from [Dr. James] Naismith the book and adopted it to our culture and made it our religion. Even if you go back to 1937 and 1939 Lithuania was European champions. So it’s the dominant sport by far in Lithuania and we call it our religion. We have student leagues that have twenty thousand participants, we have politicians’ leagues where our prime minister is playing, so basketball is part of our life and culture.

And actually this year has been very successful year for our country because if you look at international competition our Under-20s team made it to the finals, Under-18s made it to the finals and our Under-16s won the championship in Europe so basketball is deep in our genes.

JCF: Well the other thing that amazes me is that Lithuania has so much size. It’s wild to see this small country have access to such a seemingly disproportionate number of bigs.

AK: Again, I’m going to blame it on genes, but my shortest friend is possibly 6’ 3’’. I think a funny story is when I brought my agent, when I was playing professionally, to Lithuania and he was telling me, "I’ve never felt shorter in my life!" We have tall women, tall men and we say that in our country men dream to be basketball players and women dream to be models (laughs). So in terms of size, we’re a perfect people.

JCF: Going back to your ’92 Olympic experience for a moment: You obviously got a first-hand look at the Dream Team which, up until now, was unquestionably considered the finest collection of basketball talent ever assembled on one roster. Now some are wondering whether the 2008 team is its equal. What do you think? I assume you’re going to give the edge to the Dream Team, right?

AK: In my mind, yes, just because we grew up idolizing those people and Michael [ Jordan] is still going to be the greatest basketball player that ever walked on this earth. So I would say that team was better, but this team is incredible, too. What these guys can do against today’s competition is amazing to me.

JCF: Okay, sorry, I know we got a little off topic there, so let’s shift the focus back to you. Tell me a little bit about how you ended up with the Rockets.

AK: Well I’ve worked for the league for the last four and a half years for basketball operations. I had an incredible experience there. I worked for a business management firm on the financial side for two years prior to that. But working for the league for so long, I now have a lot of acquaintances on the personnel side and with a lot of teams. And my ties to Europe have always been great. I know European basketball. I know global basketball. And I was approached by the Houston Rockets to come work on the international side and help them keep up on international talent and bring my expertise.

I’m very excited for this opportunity. The biggest thing is that still my ultimate goal is to be on the personnel side and that’s what this opportunity presents.

JCF: Now you’re going to be based out of New Jersey, but I imagine you’re going to be spending a ton of time overseas as well, correct?

AK: Yes, and then I’ll also do scouting on the east coast with college, and also NBA games, too.

JCF: So do you have actual scouting experience?

AK: Well we’ve done scouting from the league’s perspective. I’ve had experience with Basketball Without Borders in terms of ranking the fifty best from each continent every year. We have four or five camps every year and we all do all our own scouting and keeping up with international talent and also keeping up with information before the draft, because the league office has to know. So, yes, I’ve done some, but a lot of it I’ll have to pick up here and learn a lot of things in terms of communication and how to combine your resources to your advantage.

JCF: I'm sure you spent a lot of time watching the Olympics - what did you think about the play of Brad Newley?

AK: What I’ve seen I’m very content and very happy to see him play like this. I watched a lot of his games including when [ Australia] played Lithuania and went up by 31 in group play (laughs). He’s demonstrating that he’s not only a great shooter, he can actually put the ball on the floor and drive. He’s spent a lot of time on the floor for the national team, so he’s moving forward and we’re going to watch him when he plays for Panellionios and see what happens.

Have a comment, critique or suggestion for Rockets.com? Contact Jason Friedman via email at: jasonf@rocketball.com