After starting the season with narrow losses in their first three games, Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius comes off its maiden 7DAYS EuroCup victory in the first of four straight games in the Lithuanian capital.
One of the players at the heart of the team’s push is power forward Drew Gordon, who leads the EuroCup in rebounding with 13 rebounds per game and is second in performance index rating with 23 per game. Gordon, 26, is playing his third EuroCup campaign for as many teams and despite his team’s rough start is optimistic about what Rytas can do. In an interview with Javier Gancedo of EuroCupbasketball .com, Gordon discussed his team and its fans, the art of rebounding and how grateful he is for the opportunity to play in the EuroCup. “If you asked me as a kid if I’d ever see myself being able to travel the world, play basketball, play the sport that I love, I wouldn’t believe you,” Gordon said. “Honestly, to be able to play basketball and do what I love, while being able to travel the world is special. Not too many people get the opportunity to do that.”
Hello, Drew. Congratulations on your team's first win. You had an outstanding first half against Fuenlabrada. What was the game plan and what allowed you to play so well right away?
“We finally got a chance to be at home and play in front of the home crowd and our chemistry as a team has been getting stronger. We are more aware of each other on the court and how one another play. I think that really helped us and we’re just motivated to get to the next round. We had a couple close games. We wanted to make sure we got out early and got the lead big enough to where we could kind of separate ourselves.”
Before this game, Rytas came off a double-overtime loss against ALBA Berlin. How much of a challenge is to play such a long, demanding game?
“Those games are always fun. Whenever you get an overtime or double overtime, you have to kind of dig deep and stay focused. It’s fun, it’s why all of us play basketball, because of competition like that. Especially when it’s a good game, good refereeing and everything like that. But it’s a heart-breaking loss. I feel like we should have won, but their guys got hot at the end and hit basically all their shots in the second overtime, so hopefully we get them back when they come see us.”
It was your first home game in the EuroCup season and you had a great crowd in front of you. You will play the next three games at Siemens Arena. How important will fan support be for you to qualify?
“Fan support is always a big thing, especially in close games. They can really help a team get motivated and keep their energy up. They can also throw the other team off with cheers and everything like that. Hopefully we play good enough basketball where people want to watch us, be a part of our games. I think that these next few games we should have a good turnout, especially because we just won a good game in EuroCup.”
You lead this year's EuroCup in rebounds, by far with 13 per game. What has made you into such a dominant rebounder this season?
“I’m finally healthy and I’m put in the 4 position. And on offense I’m on the perimeter, so I can kind of get a feel for where the shot is going and kind of gage where I should be in case they miss. And that’s how I make my money; I’m somebody who likes to attack the glass and likes to get rebounds. I feel like that’s one of the easiest parts of the games. All you have to do is go and chase the ball. You don’t have aim, you don’t have to dribble, you don’t have to do anything like that. You just go get the ball.”
We talked to DeAndre Kane of Nizhny Novgorod last week and asked him the same question. What does a player need to be a good rebounder? Is it instinct or something you have to practice?
“I think part of it is instinct. You have to have a nose for the ball. You really, most of the time, figure out what works and what doesn’t and how you can get to the basket and certain areas of the floor. You really have to pay attention to how people shoot and their tendencies, if they miss long or to the right or left. It really helps out because you can be in that general area once the ball comes off the rim. I think that really helps me out as I’ve been able to see that for a lot of years, even in high school, college, averaging close to 10 rebounds. In my professional career I’ve been doing the same, so over time you just get a feel for the ball and understand where it’s going to be once it comes off.”
You have played the EuroCup with three different teams — Banvit, Sassari and now Rytas. How do you like the competition and what is the best thing about it?
“You get a chance to travel and go see other teams, see friends who are playing in different countries. Obviously I want to play at the highest level possible and compete with teams what are deserving to be there. It’s fun. I really enjoy being able to travel and see people who I haven’t seen for a few years, and hopefully get some wins and advance, I really like the fact that it’s rounds, so you are always going to be playing different people throughout the year.”
You started your professional career in another hot basketball country, playing the EuroLeague for Partizan Belgrade. How do you compare Serbian and Lithuanian basketball fans and how is it to play in such basketball-loving countries?
“Partizan fans, I haven’t really experienced too many other fans like them. Partizan fans are very passionate. Every game was basically sold out and it was playing in a very tense environment. It was a lot of fun. I don’t think I really appreciated how dedicated the Partizan fans were. The Lithuanian fans as well, we have some dedicated fans; they show up to our home games and away games. They are a little less rowdy than the Serbian fans, but I think during the season, especially now that we have a couple of home games, the Lithuanian fans are obviously passionate about basketball. They love basketball, so I am excited to see the turnout for the next couple of games.”
Your next game is against Khimki. It is a rematch of the 2009 EuroCup final and you already played against them this season. What needs to be done in order to get another win?
“That’s a great question… Score more baskets! I’ve had the good fortune of playing with Alexey [Shved] and E.J. [Rowland] and I’ve played with a lot of the guys on that team, and I’m sure a couple of my teammates have played with them as well, so we have a pretty decent understanding of their team and their chemistry and how they like to play basketball. We’re going to have to watch film and see what our mistakes where in the first game. And it’s just practice, man. Be focused and concentrate and be in the right mindset to get things done. Stay energized and keep pushing forward.”
At age 26, you have played in the United States, France, Italy, Turkey, Serbia and now Lithuania. How great is the opportunity of getting to know different countries and different cultures through basketball?
“If you asked me as a kid if I’d ever see myself being able to travel the world, play basketball, play the sport that I love, I wouldn’t believe you. I don’t think that I ever saw myself being able to take my basketball skills to the international waters, to be able to travel the world just for playing basketball. I’m so blessed. It’s been an interesting career. I’ve had a lot of setbacks, but honestly, to be able to play basketball and do what I love, while being able to travel the world is special. Not too many people get the opportunity to do that. I’m just very thankful that my support system and everybody who’s by my side through everything and I get to show people a different side of life, something they never would have experienced has we not played basketball.”
What would make it a good season for you, personally, and for your team?
“For me personally, I want to continue to be a double-double man, I really pride myself on trying to get a double-double every game. That’s something that I am capable of doing and I want everybody in the world to realize that I am capable of averaging a double-double, given the time and given the trust by the coach. So that’s for me personally. As a team I really just want to advance to the next round and then continue to advance. I know we had some tough losses early, I think that we will be able to turn it around and start to get these wins and be able to advance. I am looking forward to the rest of this EuroCup regardless if we have to come from behind. As long as we keep winning, everything is good.”