NBA Q&A: Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Posted by Unknown on Saturday, March 08, 2014 with No comments
Courtesy of Mary Schmitt Boyer

PD: How thankful are you for the career you had, after thinking it was over so many times because of the injuries?

Z: You think about it every day … how lucky you are that you were able to come to a new country and start a new life and have your family here now and feel like it's your home also and that I was able financially to take care of myself and my family, that I was able to play for one team for so long and able to come back from all those injuries and play another 10 years … all that stuff, you really feel fortunate because all I did here … I worked hard but to me working hard is not a skill. It's what you're supposed to do and everything else will take care of itself. We all have some bumps and bruises along the way but I was lucky to keep pushing and to come out on the other side and be able to play another 10 years after the last surgery. Having LeBron [James] here helped. It rejuvenated the city and rejuvenated myself. We had those good teams. Had he not landed here, who knows if I'd have even played here most of my career? So there were a lot of things that fell in line for me. I feel lucky from that standpoint.

PD: Before being drafted by the Cavaliers, you visited with the Minnesota Timberwolves. You also thought about attending college at Georgia Tech or Alabama. Do you ever let yourself think what might have happened if you would have gone somewhere else?

Z: It's hard to tell what might have transpired right after my early 20s with all the injuries. What if I'd gone to school, hypothetically at Georgia Tech, and gotten injured? Would I even have gotten drafted after breaking down numerous times? What do you do now? Do you just get your degree? Do I go back and play in Europe? Had I gone to any other team in the draft? Who knows? I got lucky from the standpoint that [owner] Gordon [Gund] was here, and one thing that Gordon did was build in contingencies for his team. I don't know, for some reason we had a connection on a personal level. I always felt like I had the team owner in my corner, watching over me, in a good way. I don't know if that would have been possible anywhere else.

PD: Do you ever regret not going to college?

Z: I don't regret it. I wondered how it would have been. I probably would have had a good time, enjoyed myself. My parents were complete opposites. My mom was really strong with academics, and my dad just loved sports. They left it up to me. If you ask my mom, she would have loved me to have gotten an American college degree.

PD: What was your first reaction to Cleveland?

Z: I didn't know anything about Cleveland when I got drafted. I looked it up on the map. Coming from Kaunas, Lithuania, the city seemed really big to me. Where I was from wasn't that big. We didn't have any skyscrapers, so the city seemed big to me. … More than anything, my memories were of the people. It was a blue-collar town. There was not a lot of trashing or people thumping their chests. Everybody just put down their heads and went about their business. Even if somebody accomplished something, they'd celebrate in a respectful manner. The weather was basically the same. This winter was more severe but the weather was the same. Simple people. Big Eastern European community, big Lithuanian community, so that helped me.

PD: What was your first reaction to coach Mike Fratello?

Z: Mike was really the best thing that ever happened to me when I was a young player. He was tough. He would hold you accountable. He really paid attention to details. Back in the day, if you had a cell phone you weren't allowed to use a cell phone on the bus. … It was good for me, looking back … he kept me in line. He showed me how to be a professional, what it takes. For me, it was really good. I didn't mind the hard coaching. None of that was personal. He was hard on everybody. So for me, it was good.

PD: Who else helped you adjust?

Z: Stan [Kellers, then strength and conditioning coach] helped me a lot. Stan was with me almost every day, working through injuries and all the other stuff. I'm a loner by nature. It doesn't bother me being alone. Sometimes I even seek that out, although, right now with the kids, that's impossible. It was always funny to me to see guys with these big posses. That was so not my personality. I had a few friends that I met here, but overall I kept to myself.

PD: What was the best time here?

Z: The most fun I had was probably those three or four years when we had really good teams and we went to The Finals. There was a lot of pressure and other stuff but, boy, we had a lot of fun. We had good guys on the team who cared for each other. We played as a team. We were never the most talented -- we might have had the most talented guy on our team -- but we were never the most talented team. But we played hard. We played the right way. We represented the city well, and the city fell in love with the guys because for all the antics on the court, you could see we were a hustling, hard-playing team. So, for me, just to see the city … I was there when it was really bad. … Nobody was going to the games. I remember all those [empty] blue seats. Going from that to a sellout every day and national TV and championship aspirations and everything else, to me that was special. I wasn't just traded here. I lived through it so I could measure the good and the bad and really appreciate what we had here.

PD: What was the worst time?

Z: The worst was probably the injuries. Losing in The Finals to the Spurs. The one that hurt the most from all the losses was losing to the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals [in 2009]. I really felt good about that team. But we caught a hot team and we just couldn't overcome that. A few unlucky bounces … but we really feel that team had something special the way we played that year. That one still hurts, actually. More than The Finals. In The Finals, I didn't think we were ready to win yet. But that team (that lost to Orlando) was better than the team that went to The Finals, more talented.

PD: Any regrets? Do you regret going to Miami? Anything you'd take back?

Z: No. I don't think I would. I made some mistakes throughout the years here and there. I wouldn't do it any other way. I'm human, just like anybody else. You give your best and as long as you know you've done that, then you can live with yourself for the rest of your life. I felt like, for myself, more important than anything -- I did not cheat myself. The championships come and go. Some of it is luck, and some of it is where you catch it, at what point in your career, players you play with, rivalries you have. I didn't feel like I cheated myself. I gave it my all. I can live with the results.

PD: Could you see yourself coaching?

Z: Right now, I probably see myself coaching or getting involved at some kind of youth level -- whether it's high school or middle school -- helping the kids out. With our busy schedule I have a hard time picturing myself with the age my kids are and everything else jumping into the full NBA and going 24/7 again for 10 or 11 months out of the year. It would be hard.

PD: You were hired by former general manager Chris Grant as a special assistant. How's your relationship with acting general manager David Griffin?

Z: I'm still the same. Griff and I have a really good relationship. I talk to him a few times. I've seen him a couple times. For me, I know I have an open invitation whether I want to come to the game, meetings, practices. That's what I wanted to do this year. I wanted to step back a little and spend more time with my family and more than anything reevaluate my life. For the first time in a long time I had a little bit of down time. The kids keep me busy. But I didn't have any basketball responsibilities. I could focus on other aspects of my life, and it's been good. It's been really good.