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One of the first European players to find sustained success in the NBA, Sarunas Marciulionis helped pave the way for the internationalization of the NBA. Originally the Warriorsí sixth-round pick in the 1987 NBA Draft, the Lithuanian-born guard joined the club in 1989 and played four of his first seven NBA seasons with Golden State. At 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, Marciulionis was a hardnosed player with a physically punishing style of play. He was the runner-up for the NBAís Sixth Man of the Year Award for the 1991-92 season in which he averaged 18.9 points and 3.4 assists while shooting 53.8 percent from the field. Since his playing days have come to an end, Marciulionis has become a highly successful businessman and he currently operates the Sarunas Marciulionis Basketball Academy in Lithuania.
Warriors.com (DotCom):What can you tell us about the Sarunas Marciulionis Basketball Academy in Lithuania? Sarunas Marciulionis (SM): Itís going to be the 20-year anniversary next year and we have more than 200 kids daily. Weíre trying to train kids to be at a good level in the world. We have kids who are on the national team and on the menís national team we have three or four players Ö We have our representatives at all levels (of the national team) Ö It makes me feel good that I can contribute to Lithuanian basketball.
DotCom:When did you realize the Warriors were interested in you and that you had potential to become an NBA player? SM: That was a difficult time. Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union and in my wildest dreams I couldnít imagine playing in the United States. At that time, Donn Nelson was a scout and he was scouting me in the 1988 Olympics and he came to Lithuania a few times and stayed at my place. He was very open about my game, about my role and about California. I made the decision and I was very happy that I was a part of it.
DotCom:Was there ever a time that you thought you might not be able to play in the NBA? SM:
In the beginning, it was very difficult to leave the Soviet Union. Then I was going through many adjustments. It was challenging to learn the language and to learn Don Nelsonís system. He was pretty tough on me, but I guess it worked out pretty well.
DotCom:What was it like playing with the Warriors of the early 1990s? SM:
My role was to come off the bench and bring great energy. There were four small guys running up and down the court. We read the game, passed the ball and there were excellent shooters. Sometimes I watch old games and Iím surprised how different the game is now compared to our old times Ö It was a fun team. It was a good atmosphere and camaraderie. I was well accepted and part of it even though I didnít understand much English. I have the best memories from that time.
DotCom:What does Chris Mullinís enshrinement into the Hall of Fame mean to you? SM:
Iíve stayed in touch with Chris. He was a role model to me because of his work ethic. He really dedicated himself to work very hard and his ability to shoot. Iím very happy for him that heís part of the top players in the world. He made the Hall of Fame.
Do you ever think about your chances to make the Hall of Fame? SM:
Iím excited that the NBA and FIBA World appreciates my contribution to the game of basketball. Itís a pretty big achievement to be a candidate for the Hall of Fame.
How much pride do you have that you were one of the first European players to come over and have success in the NBA? SM:
At that time, it was very difficult because of the game style. We were weaker in defense and the game was different ... It was a big responsibility for countries and for Europe to adjust to the NBA game and to be part of NBA basketball. That was difficult for the five years.
Can you describe your experiences of restoring the Lithuanian national team? SM:
It was a very exciting time. The best memories that I had was in 1992 when we put this team together with fundraisers in the United States. There was some Grateful Dead involvement, and thatís really an interesting story. We tried to put together a documentary movie in the next two months about that unforgettable time.
Listen To The Full Interview With Sarunas Marciulionis
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