Joe Arlauckas: The “recordman”

If a visiting team shoots 0-for-11 from the arc, probably the last thing you’d expect is that it won the game by 19 points, scoring a total 115. You’d probably expect even less that one of this team’s players makes history in a competition by scoring… 63 points! That’s exactly what happened on February 26, 1996 in a Euroleague game in Bologna between Kinder and Real Madrid. The Spanish team won by 96-115, scoring 58 points in the first half, 57 in the second. Power forward Joe Arlauckas spent 39 minutes on court to score 63 points by making 24 of 28 two-pointers and 15 of 18 free throws. He took one three-pointer and missed it. He also pulled 11 rebounds, dished 2 assists and had 4 steals for a total index rating… over 80! In the official stats sheet we are only missing the fouls drawn figure, but if he shot 18 free throws, he received at least 9 fouls, and he committed only 2. It was one of those unforgettable nights of offensive fireworks even though both Pablo Laso and Jose Miguel Antunez missed three attempts from the arc each (but Laso finished with 9 assists), Ismael Santos missed two, Santi Abad, Zoran Savic and Arlauckas himself also missed one three apiece for Madrid’sl 0 for 11 total.

With 63 points, Arlauckas is still far away from the 99 that Radivoj Korac scored in the same competition in 1965, but he is still way above the current Euroleague record shared by Alphonso Ford, Cartlton Myers and Kaspars Kambala with 41 points.

Great night in Bologna

“It was an incredible game,” remembers Zoran Savic, the second best Real Madrid scorer in that game with 16 points in that great night for Arlauckas. “Joe missed one or two of his first attempts from the field, but after that he just scored everything. He played at ease and nobody even realized that he had scored so many points. We were all kind of surprised after the game, looking at the stats sheet. Joe was a natural born offensive player, with a great four-meter jumpshot, with amazing timing for shooting and also rebounds. He knew how to play both facing the basket and with his back to it. He had many resources on offense and was a great teammate.”

Of Lithuanian heritage, Joseph John “Joe” Arlacukas was born on July 20, 1965 in Rochester, New York. He had basketball running through his veins, but baseball was his sport of choice in his youth. He played basketball at Jefferson High School but in his first years at Niagara University he didn’t think the sport would become his profession. His last two seasons there were pretty good (17.4 points), so his size (2.04 meters) and his good fundamentals opened a door for him to the 1987 NBA draft. The Sacramento Kings picked him with number 74 in the fourth round. He would share a locker room with Otis Thorpe, Harold Pressley, Joe Kleine, Ed Pickney and Lasalle Thompson, all of them power forwards or centers, his position. He even scored 17 points in one game, but that was not enough for him to stay. He was cut in December of 1987 after only 9 games, with 34 points and 13 rebounds total.

His new destination would be Europe. He would join Juventus Caserta of Italy, where he would fill in for Georgi Gluchkov, the first European to ever play in the NBA. There, he would coincide with a superscorer like Oscar Schmidt and the great Italian prospect Ferdinando Gentile. In the Italian Cup final, against Varese, Arlauckas won his first title. Caserta won by 113-100 after two overtimes. Arlauckas contributed 13 points but before the end of the regular season he was cut for the second time in his career. In 12 games he averaged 10.7 points and 4.7 rebounds.

Re-birth in the ACB

The new era in Arlauckas career would start in Spain. He landed in Malaga to join Caja de Ronda. At the beginning he didn’t match well with coach Mario Pesquera, but little by little he started to adapt better and formed a great duo with center Ricky Brown, a former European champion with Milano. After beating Estudiantes, Joventut and Barcelona on the road, with 45 points by Joe against Barca, everyone realized that the Spanish League had a new star. In his two years in Malaga he averaged 21.6 points and in 1990 he moved to Baskonia. The American coach Herb Brown, the restless scout Alfonso Salazar and president Josean Querejeta were the people behind a great signing. During three years in Vitoria he averaged 22.0 points. With Pablo Laso he formed a great tandem guard-power forward while the pair of big men was completed by Ramon Rivas of Puerto Rico. Before the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, the Lithuanian basketball federation tried to get Arlauckas to play for the national team because of his Lithuanian heritage, but he didn’t accept. However, he would play a bit later with Arvydas Sabonis in Real Madrid.

In the Korac Cup, Europe discovered a great scorer. In two duels against Zadar he scored 79 points (40 and 39). Against Banjik of Czechoslovakia he outdid himself with 87 points in two games plus 32 rebounds. In the Korac Cup of 1992-93 he finished with an average of 32.0 points and 11.7 rebounds. As good as it gets.

Three great seasons in Vitoria opened the doors of Real Madrid to Arlauckas, where he would meet his “fellow countryman” Sabonis. Despite some problems at the beginning to understand each other, details were tweaked with a little bit of time and simply put, after that they were one of the best combinations of power forward and center ever in European basketball. In 1994-95, a still young Zeljko Obradovic landed on Real Madrid’s bench to become the new coach. He already had two European crowns with Partizan (1992) and Joventut (1994). Nowadays, Arlauckas says that the coach he learned the most from was Obradovic. In return, the coach only has good words to say about one of his favorite players in his career:

“He was a killer in the most positive sense of the word,” Zeljko himself, who likes to joke that he is now “unemployed”, told me a few days ago. “I am very proud of having had him as a player and as a person. The wins and the points get forgotten with time, but you never forget about good people and Joe was one of the best.”

With amazing memory, Obradovic quickly pinpoints the result against Kinder. He remembers the game as if it happened yesterday: “I was considered to be a coach who loved basket-control, low scoring, slow pace… Then, we had the game in Bologna with a true festival by Joe. He scored everything with great ease. He was a complete player, he had it all. He could shoot, rebound, he was fast, he had the technique, he was courageous… He was one of the best players I ever coached in my 20-year long career.”

Zaragoza, 17 years later

That same season of the great night for Joe Arlauckas, Real Madrid would become the European champion. The most expected title since 1978 arrived on April 13 of 1994, in the Final Four played in Zaragoza. In the semifinals, Real Madrid got rid of Limoges by 62-49 as Arlauckas scored 12, while in the title game, the Blancos defeated Olympiacos by 73-61 as Joe had 16 points and 4 rebounds while Sabonis led the team with 23 points and 7 boards.

One of the biggest assets for Arlauckas was his ability to play alongside bigger stars than him with no problems or envy at all. Except with Schmidt in Caserta, after that he was always forming great tandems with all the stars he played with. After Sabonis left for the NBA, the new star in Real Madrid was Dejan Bodiroga, with whom Arlauckas also had a great understanding. In the 1997 Saporta Cup final against Mash Verona, won by Madrid 78-64, the list of best scorers for the winners was: Alberto Herreros 19, Joe Arlauckas 18 and Dejan Bodiroga 17.

After five years in Real Madrid, Arlauckas went to Greece to join AEK Athens. The change of country, environment and the basketball style was really hard for him. He had a discreet season (13.8 points) and the following one in Aris Thessaloniki was a little bit better (17.4) but his best years were already in the past and in Spain.

After retiring he went back to the United States but his love for Spain made him return to Madrid. His experience helped him land a commentator spot with TVE, the Spanish national TV, for the Spanish League games. But his real desire would be teaching big men what he knows about basketball.

And he knows a lot.

(November, 2012)