Former Maccabi Tel Aviv star Sarunas Jasikevicius has been waiting for this day for a long time. A proven winner in Europe, the Lithuanian point guard now faces a much tougher challenge.
With his first training camp and eight preseason games behind him, the 29-year-old rookie point guard will make his NBA debut Wednesday night when the Pacers open the season at Orlando.
"Mentally, you're preparing yourself for the higher pace and things like that, but you can't know about it until you experience it," Jasikevicius said. "So I'm looking forward to it."
After mastering the pick-and-roll with Maccabi big man Nikola Vucic, Jasikevicius will now try and team up with NBA superstar Jermaine O'Neal.
The emotional guard was a perfect match to the die-hard Maccabi fans, who pleaded with him to remain yellow.
But Jasikevicius was looking for a new challenge - to prove he can run with the best in the business.
Jasikevicius came to the United States as a teenager, finished high school in Pennsylvania and played college basketball at Maryland. After he was bypassed in the draft, he returned to Europe, where he worked on his game and finally caught the attention of the Indiana Pacers, among other NBA teams, at the Athens Olympics.
Older than all five of Indiana's projected starters, Jasikevicius comes with a built-in maturity to go with his reputation as a strong outside shooter.
The 1.93-meter guard averaged 15.7 points and 5.3 assists last year, helping Maccabi win its second straight Euroleague championship. He averaged 8.5 points and a team-high 3.0 assists for the Pacers in the exhibition season. Before joining Maccabi, Jasikevicius led Barcelona to a Euroleague title.
"For some guys who have been in this league for many years, it's maybe hard to get motivated in the preseason and they're just waiting for the regular season to roll around,"Jasikevicius said. "It was important from the standpoint of understanding the league and understanding how it works. But, like everybody else, I'm very, very happy it's over."
Jasikevicius shot 49 percent in the preseason, the best among all Pacers guards. He most likely will be a backup to Jamaal Tinsley at point or to Stephen Jackson, who moved from small forward to shooting guard in place of the retired Reggie Miller.
"I feel pretty good about his ability to make plays and shoot the ball," Jermaine O'Neal said. "Obviously, we knew what type of shooter he was coming into this situation.
"That's one big reason why I called him and tried to get him to come here because he helps us out a lot.
"I'm going to get a lot of double-teams, and if he can come out and knock down those threes, it'll make it tough for teams to double down on me," O'Neal said.
Jasikevicius scored 28 points in Lithuania's upset win of the United States in last year's Olympics.
Recruited personally by Pacers president Larry Bird who visited him in TelAviv last year, he turned down offers from Cleveland, Utah, Seattle and Portland before signing with Indiana in July.
"Defensively, he's still learning," O'Neal said. "You've got to be a little bit patient because it is a transition for him. The preseason isn't a real NBA game.
"We're going to do our best to help him excel in the system."
With Ron Artest back from his nearly season-long suspension following the brawl with fans in Detroit last November, the Pacers are among the teams expected to contend for the NBA championship.
"We're going to have to win a lot of games, starting with getting our first win, and that's really the only thing that concerns me right now," coach Rick Carlisle said.
"But I do think we should have a good team," he added. "I don't think there's any doubt about that."
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