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Darius Songaila - March MVP
March 27, 2013
Donetsk (Ukraine) forward Darius Songaila has been named VTB United League March MVP. 

The final weekend of action in the 2012/13 VTB United League regular season provided plenty of excitement. The final playoff seeds and first-round bye weren’t decided until the final seconds of Monday’s game between Khimki and Krasnye Krylia. Donetsk, meanwhile, led by Darius Songaila, capped an impressive late-season charge by defeating Spartak on Sunday to steal the final playoff spot in Group A. 


Though one of the VTB United League preseason favorites, Donetsk ended January with a 4-8 record, having lost 5 of its last 6 League games. The club had also been eliminated from the Euroleague and Eurocup and fired two coaches (Vladimir Iovanovic and Josep Berrocal). 26-year-old Oleksiy Efimov, the club’s sporting director, took over on the bench, while team leader Doron Perkins said goodbye to Donetsk… It appeared obvious to all that the season was already over. 


The pessimism proved a bit hasty. In Yefimov’s first game, his team whipped Ukrainian rival Azovmash. The following week, Donetsk lost in overtime to Astana in heartbreaking fashion, but bounced back with four straight wins at home to end the season. The Tigers took down Krasnye Krylia, Turow, Lietuvos Rytas and Spartak during the streak, just enough to catch Rytas on the last day of the season and sneak into the playoffs via a tiebreaker. 


Songaila, for his part, played a big role in Donetsk’s March revival. The veteran 35-year-old Lithuanian averaged 19 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game during the three March wins…just like the old days when Darius played for CSKA and multiple NBA clubs. 

- What’s the reason for such a good end to the regular season? 


- There are several reasons for our improved play. First of all, the schedule isn’t as busy as it was at the start of the season, when we had to play almost every other day because of European cup games. Second, the coaching change had a positive impact on the team. We’ve started to use different plays with Oleksiy Yefimov and our scoring average has gone up by almost 20 points. Third, we had nothing to lose, so the players got tougher mentally. Donetsk attacks the basket much more effectively now than it did a month ago. We’ve had several games where 4 or 5 people scored in double digits. 

- Does the fact that Donetsk’s current coach is only 26 years old have an impact on how he relates to the team? 


- Maybe he doesn’t know quite as much as our previous coach, Spaniard [Josep] Berrocal, but Yefimov is in closer contact with us. He’s not afraid to ask our opinion on how best to play against this or that opponent. The productive dialogue benefits Donetsk. 

- What impact did the switch in point guards make – Curtis Milladge replacing Doron Perkins?


- Both are excellent players. Perkins constantly flirted with triple-doubles, racking up impressive scoring, rebounding and assist totals. Milladge is more of a team player who looks first to drive the ball and pass. That allows teammates to get open, many of whom have grown more confident thanks to Curtis. Now we play more quickly and with greater unpredictability at the same time. 

- When Perkins left Donetsk did you have any desire to follow him? Especially since rumors were going around that several Euroleague teams were interested in you…


- I won’t deny that I did receive a concrete offer. But it wasn’t appealing enough for me to pack my bags on the spot and take off. As a result, I stayed with Donetsk, which I don’t regret one bit. We’ve made the VTB United League playoffs and won several important games in the Ukrainian league. Everything’s coming together. 

- What are your thoughts on playing Lokomotiv-Kuban in the first round of the VTB United League playoffs in May? Have you already talked about the series with your teammates on the Lithuanian national team, Simas Jasaitis and Mantas Kalnietis, who have been incredible for Krasnodar this season? 


- Of course, Lokomotiv is a serious team. Its success in the Eurocup makes that clear. We have more than a month, though, to prepare for the series. We already played Krasnodar in the group stage of the Eurocup and traded road victories. Ever since then, Donetsk and Loko have been much improved, by the way. As for Simas and Mantas, no, I haven’t talked about it with them yet. There’s still time. May 2 is a long ways off. 

- You wouldn’t meet CSKA in the 2013 playoffs any earlier than the finals. For you, as a former player and Red-Blue fan favorite, is anything different when you play CSKA? 


- You leave a bit of yourself at every club. There are still guys in the Russian league that I used to play against as a member of CSKA. That’s why it’s interesting for me to play against teams like Khimki, UNICS and Lokomotiv, as well as many other teams in Russia. 



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