An English-language extrapolation of the interview follows. As of this writing, Liga Endesa-imported coach Joan Plaza still holds his position with Žalgiris, but Romanov’s evasive answer to the question of Plaza’s short-term future aren’t exactly enthusiasm-generating…
Sport-Express: Are you manning Žalgiris for next season? Have your plans been implemented?
Romanov: By and large, I’m satisfied, but not 100%. On the one hand, we have some strong Lithuanian players – [Rimantas] Kaukenas and the Lavrinovic Brothers. On the other, we also invited Sarunas Jasikevicius, but he chose FC Barcelona. Apparently, he was influenced by his wife, who said she must think about their future. Sarunas, because he’s near the end of his career, seems to want to stay in Spain and will probably take a leading position in the Euroleague. It’s a pity, because Žalgiris [is lacking at] the point guard position … In general, I had a desire to build a quality team on the basis of representatives of one country, an unprecedented event in modern European basketball. When we presented the idea to future head coach Joan Plaza, he simply accepted it with enthusiasm, and it caught fire…
Is it true that you have considered former CSKA coach Jonas Kazlauskas, under whom Žalgiris won the Euroleague title in 1999?
Yes. I also considered former coach Aleksandr Trifunovic … But eventually I settled on [Plaza] because I found him to have the maximum comprehension of both financial issues and tactics. Although there are exceptions – for example, we argued long and hard about the young American center Jeff Foote. Still do overseas players often take a long time to adapt to the European style of basketball. … Sonny Weems [was an exception].
Do you regret that Weems went to CSKA Moscow? It turned out that your club not only hurt itself, but this also improves a VTB United League rival…
No. Because we had other problems with Weems.
What are Žalgiris’ goals for the season?
It’s hard to imagine. The preseason training will take place, they will play a team – and then it will be visible.
In connection with the expansion of the Euroleague format, Žalgiris and Lietuvos Rytas are exempt from LKL regular-season home matches. Was it difficult to agree with the leadership of the Lithuanian league?
Yes, it is not easy. I had to persuade them that we will gain more than we lose, that we are trying to meet the interests of all [leagues] – the domestic championship and the VTB League. The LKL also did not lose: We will play against all the clubs in their areas, and hence the popularity of the league will not be harmed. At the same time, the Lithuanian league prefers to develop homegrown talent as opposed to bringing in Eastern European players. And [the new format] not only promotes the class of our teams, but also gives fans interesting matches. For example, Žalgiris-CSKA games draw enormous interest from all over Lithuania, not only in Kaunas – Even Euroleague games sometimes do not have such an effect. So the fans are happy too…
Last year, head coach Elias Zouros resigned after the first Euroleague match – was it because of the loss to CSKA Moscow?
No, there were other problems. During the preseason, Zouros was engaged with the Greek national team for Eurobasket, and insisted on the appointment of his assistant, although we had a good backup at coach. Then Zouros wanted to take players who had just returned from EuroBasket 2011 to the Gomelsky Cup tournament. I tried to convince him that it made no sense to send a team that hasn’t played together to Moscow, and as a result our young people without leaders played decently, losing to CSKA by just eight. At home, in the Euroleague, things got much worse…
Can Plaza be sure that he won’t be shown the door as quickly as Zouros?
I am letting him work. In training, things are very different. We have seen, that during this training with firm discipline, that players sense a high-profile coach. I think Plaza is able to achieve significant results.
The 15,000-seat Žalgiris arena is regularly sold out. But in Russia, attendance of basketball matches is much worse. Is it only about Lithuanians’ passion for basketball or is that [Russian] clubs do not work well with the fans?
I can tell you that the acquisition of Lawson and Weems last season had a positive impact on our popularity. But the advantage is not only that. For example, our young forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas fought Weems through every practice – and in general did not concede. He played very little for Zalgiris, but he asked to be stay on the team because even in training with such a master was a valuable experience and the opportunity to progress and learn from NBA players. Russia has state participation in the development of sports. Personally, I have this envy in the best sense of the word for this. And the level of competition [in Russia] rises every year. The direction of Russian basketball is right – you just continue to evolve.