Lithuanian-born basketball prospect Arnoldas Kulboka, a 20-year-old sharpshooter, will keep his name in the upcoming 2018 NBA draft.
Kulboka, who recently scored 13 points in a five-on-five scrimmage at the NBA Global Camp for international players, has already worked out for the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets.
The prospect spoke to HoopsHype about playing in the NBA and his journey to get to where he is today.
Lithuania has obviously been in the news quite a bit for basketball reasons with LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball playing there. How did you feel about the added attention from Americans?
Arnoldas Kulboka: When they came there, they were like celebrities. People expected a lot from them. They went to one of the worst teams in the league and had some big problems with the club. People expected they would be a little bit better. But you can’t expect too much from kids out of high school against grown men and professional basketball players. You have to play defense. You have to play physical. LaMelo is so young. I don’t think he was ready. LiAngelo was doing pretty okay. Media was tweeting about them a lot. Sometimes it was very good and people thought they were scoring so much against pro teams but those games were actually against kids their age in friendly games. There was a lot of attention on the club. They really got so many Instagram followers!
How did you become so interested in basketball at such a young age?
AK: Basketball is like religion in Lithuania. When I was small, I already had a mini-basketball when I was like two or three. When I was six years old, I knew I wanted to attend because I wanted to eventually play basketball. It was pretty early and it is the biggest passion for so many people in my home country. I’m really proud that I come from an extremely small village. I’m still trying to reach my goals but I’m already professional basketball. It’s hard to come from a place like that, with less than one thousand people, and make it.
What is the biggest difference in declaring for the draft this season compared to when you made the same decision last year?
AK: Last year, I didn’t have as much experience as I do now. I didn’t play in the first league. But this year, I had a lot of playing time in the first league in Italy. I feel more mature. I gained a lot of muscle, I’m bigger. I think I gained like 12 or 13 pounds during the season. I feel stronger. The playing time against growing men was the biggest thing for me. I improved a lot on defense. That was one of the biggest weaknesses that I had. I’m still working on it, too. I improved my body and I’m working on everything. I’m a much better defender than I’ve ever been.
Are there any NBA sharpshooters you’ve tried to model your style after?
AK: I really like the games of both Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic. They are both similar to me. They played in Europe and I like them a lot.
Have you played against people who have played in the NBA before?
AK: I’ve played against many former NBA players. This year, one of my teammates was Eric Maynor. He told me to work on my game. He knows I’m a good shooter and tells me to keep shooting no matter what because that is what shooters do. If I miss a few shots, he said not to obsess over it. Just take another one with more confidence. He told me some main things about life in the NBA. Stay focused all the time, no matter what. Don’t have any distractions. I don’t need a luxurious life. I just want to play basketball at the highest level of competition.
You’ve played all over the world, which could help your transition to the NBA. How has that impacted your global understanding of the sport?
AK: It’s nice because I’ve played in many places. I’ve been in Lithuania, Germany and Italy. Basketball is different everywhere. You can learn from different coaches. I always wanted to play in other countries to see not only basketball but also different cultures, people and languages. It’s been a good experience.
What will be the biggest change if you end up moving to the United States?
AK: It’ll be the time difference. Like, when I call my girlfriend or my family and it’s 11 pm and they ask what I’m going to do today because I just woke up. That will be weird.
How did you end up playing in Sicily? It seems a long way from home.
AK: The thing I wanted to have was playing time. We had many options. I was talking with my team in Bamberg and my agent. We just came up with this decision that Italy is a pretty good level for basketball. The Italian league is solid. I had a chance to play in the Champions League, which is a high level of competition. My coach gave me that chance and I took it.
What are some lifestyle changes you’ve noticed in each new place that you’ve lived?
AK: Honestly, I’m kind of used to living alone because I left my home when I was 15. It’s not a big deal for me. I just need a gym, ball and coaches.
Did you get a chance to travel much growing up or is that mostly through your playing career?
AK: I didn’t travel at all when I was young. I’m coming from a really small village. I just started traveling when I met basketball when I was like the age of 12 or 13. That’s when everything started. By last year, we had to fly to every game in different countries because we lived on an island in Italy.
Is there anything about your game that may surprise folks when they see you at their pre-draft workouts?
AK: This year, I wasn’t able to play much pick-and-roll or much off the ball. But I think I’m able to do that stuff. I think scouts will see that. Many people think I’m not athletic. Actually, I think I’m kind of athletic.
Before I let you go: Do you come from a tall family? When did you get to be so tall?
AK: My brother is 6-foot-4 but my parents are pretty short. My granddad said that his cousin was around 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-7. But that’s about it. I really don’t know how this happened. My mom and dad joke maybe I’m the neighbor’s kid. I never had a growth spurt. I was always growing the same, like six or seven inches every year. I used to be the tallest kid, then people jumped and then stopped. I kept growing the entire time. I’m 6-foot-9 barefoot. That is enough for me.