|Jonas Maciulis is a regular in the green and yellow of Lithuania|
By Dimitris Kontos
Since the now 28-year-old Jonas Maciulis turned into a senior Lithuanian international at EuroBasket 2007, there has only been one major tournament in which he was unable to pull on the yellow-green jersey.
It was however the one event that Maciulis and every Lithuanian player of his generation was hoping to experience from up close: EuroBasket 2011, on home soil, in front of some of the most dedicated basketball fans in the world.
"Of course it was a special event for Lithuania, for the country and all the players," the 2.00m small forward, nicknamed 'The Bull', told fibaeurope.com.
"Everybody wanted to play in that championship at home, but what happened, happened."
What had happened in May 2011, less than four months before the EuroBasket tipped off, was that Maciulis, who was then playing for Olimpia Milano, suffered a rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during an Italian League game and had to undergo surgery and a long rehabilitation process.
"I don't think I will have another chance to play in something like this," Maciulis admits, "unless maybe [there is] a World Championship in Lithuania, we will see," he says with a laughter.
"It was a little bit sad then but now I am not looking back, as long as I am healthy I am happy.
"[Now] I run, I jump, I play like before, so I am fine and everything is ok."
Perhaps even more than just 'ok'; anyone who has seen Maciulis play since returning to action in 2012 can testify his nickname remains perfectly appropriate.
He joined six-time Euroleague champions Panathinakos in the summer and averaged 10.1 points, shooting as accurately as ever from any range, as well as averaging 4.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists across 29 games as the Greek side reached the play-offs of Europe's top competition this year.
|At 36, Maciulis understands why Rimantas Kaukenas wants to rest this summer|
SURVIVAL AND HONOUR AT THE EUROBASKET
Despite having recovered his previous form, Maciulis still wants to see off the season in perfect shape (Panathinaikos commence the battle of the Greek league play-offs this weekend) before discussing unreservedly the upcoming EuroBasket in Slovenia.
"When I get an invitation, we will see," Maciulis says in anticipation of Lithuania coach Jonas Kazlauskas announcing his preliminary squad.
"Of course the national team is mandatory for us," he adds laughingly.
Sarunas Jasikevicius had not yet confirmed his absence from EuroBasket 2013 at the time of the interview, but fellow veteran Rimantas Kaukenas had all but announced officially he would take the summer off to rest.
"Ok, it's a little bit different for him, because of the age and the injuries he's had," Maciulis commented.
"How old is he now? 36? so you can understand.
"But for me it's different, I just want to see how the season ends, everyone wants to finish the season as well as possible and to finish healthy.
"We need as many good players as possible to come, and then we will see what we can do.
"I think if everybody comes, like [Linas] Kleiza, [Jonas] Valanciunas, [Donatas] Motiejunas and everybody who plays abroad and has a tough season, or [Paulius] Jankunas who is now injured, then we can [set targets for the EuroBasket].
In Lithuania's case, the aim in every major tournament is more or less the same, to be at the top.
Maciulis however has played at two EuroBaskets, two Olympic Games tournaments and one World Championship and focuses instead on the process that makes a winning team.
"Success would be to show a good team game first of all, to keep the spirit of the game we will play together," he explains.
"And be friends with each other on and off the court.
"The important thing is basketball of course, but these things are important too, to have a good relationship and atmosphere."
Lithuania were drawn in Group B and will face Serbia, Montenegro, Latvia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and F.Y.R of Macedonia in the First Round.
It is exactly the latter opponent's amazing run to the EuroBasket 2011 semi-finals that Maciulis uses as an example to make a point.
"I don't think there is anything like an easy group right now, you cannot underestimate anyone.
"You saw what F.Y.R of Macedonia did at the EuroBasket in Lithuania.
"I don't think nowadays there are weak groups or weak teams, we have to play with everybody.
"And every team there fights for survival and honour."