Europeans in NCAA Water Polo: Pride or Punishment?
An Interview with Lithuanian LMU Recruit Ed Asajavicius

Joan Gould
Water Polo Planet

Ed AsajaviciusThe Men's water polo recruiting season has begun and the water polo world is watching to see how the 2008 season will shake out with new recruits. Each year, a few Europeans enter the NCAA arena and most prove to be strong impact players, raising the annual controversy that Europeans are taking places from Americans and should be limited.

We recently caught up with Edgaras Asajavičius of Vilnius, Lithuania who is considered to be one of the top recruits of 2008. A 17 year old, 6‘5“ 200 lb left hander, Ed has visited the USA to play water polo every year since he was 15 and is well known to coaches on both the East and West Coasts.

From his first trip, Ed was intent on studying and playing in the United States and has just realized his dream, signing a NLI with Loyola Marymount University in LA.  Smart, savvy and passionate about water polo, Ed brings to LMU a 3.9 high school GPA, multi year experience playing internationally and a dream to go on to play professionally after college.  He has been actively recruited by many professional teams in Europe but in the end, chose to begin his adulthood with a degree from an US University.

Most of us in the US would be unable to locate Lithuania on a map. Tell us exactly where it is and what is the country like?

Lithuania is located in northern Europe, on the eastern coast of Baltic Sea. Sharing boarders with: Latvia, Belarus, Poland and Russia. It still is a developing country of the European Union, since the joining the European Union (in 2004) many changes were  made and I should say the country is getting closer to the “Western European level“.

... what is the country like?:)  Beautiful women, beer and basketball everywhere.

Lithuania was the first country to break away from the Soviet Union and its people have a long history of being fiercely independent. What differences have you seen in your country since overthrowing the communist regime? Has the change to the EU been difficult?

The country separated  from the  Soviet Union in 1990, I  was born in 1989 so I couldn‘t tell much about communist regime in Lithuania. . Since 1990 the country has done everything to be held as democratic republic. All these years Lithuania was fulfilling the requirements to get into the EU, so I must say that the change to the EU was like a reached goal to our country. However these few years have changed a lot of things in the country, especially city appearance, but life didn't change much for ordinary people.

How many people play water polo in Lithuania?  What is the most popular sport in Lithuania?

We have 3 men's clubs, the situation in younger groups is a bit better, there are 6-9 teams playing in the national championship. We have a good relationship with the Belarus water polo federation, so teams from both sides often play in Open championships.

The most popular sport in Lithuania definitely is basketball, which is called the national religion here.

You recently signed a National Letter of Intent and begin studies at Loyola Marymount University in LA this August.  What made you choose LMU over schools like USC and especially Cal where your former teammate Brian Dudley is playing?

LMU showed me the most interest.  I personally know the assistant coach, Kyle Witt and Tibor Forai is a good friend of mine. I also played at LMU every week during the Water Polo Planet camp in 2006, and find LMU to be one of the most beautiful Universities I‘ve ever seen. Such interest and the  unlimited educational possibilities provided by the University made the choice undoubtedly clear to me. Of course, it is also great that LMU is in NCAA finals every year.

You spent the summer of 2006 in LA playing for the GATO/Water Polo Planet All Star Team with Tibor Forai from Serbia, also at LMU. According to your coaches and teammates, you and Tibor were an “unstoppable scoring machine”.  Do you think that you and Tibor can have a similar impact in NCAA play?

Tibor is a very good player. I am glad that we were successful teammates and hope we‘ll be able to help our team as much as we can in the NCAA.

You have been playing for Lithuania in Germany and do a lot of traveling with the Lithuanian National Team. We also hear that you are an “A” student. How many days of school have you missed this year? How do you keep up with studies with all of the travel?

Yeah, I miss a lot of classes during school year, especially from October when the season in Germany starts. This year I  missed about 30% of classes, it‘s less than it was before because I  do not travel with Youth National team (only the 20 and under and Senior) and most of my games take place in Germany. Teachers in school give me more time to take the tests that I missed during my trips and I take extra classes when I am here in Lithuania. I‘ve done this since 5th grade so now I am used to it and don‘t find it very difficult.

You play a lot of games in Germany and Belorus, have a Russian coach, spent a lot of time in the USA and study French in high school. How many languages do you speak?

Studying is not always equal to speaking :) French...I  must admit I  can‘t say much more than Bonjour. I speak Lithuanian, which is my home language. I learnt Russian while traveling with water polo. Almost all tournaments that Lithuanian teams participate in, take part in former Soviet Union republics.   Lithuanian is NOT like the  Russian language ( I‘ve been asked many times what‘s the difference between languages, well the best answer would be: COMPLETELY different )... My english is ok, and I can speak and understand German. So it‘s 4 languages.

You have played water polo in the United States several times, including in the summer leagues,Premier League D1, Junior Olympics and Commerce Invitational. What are the differences in the way the game is played in Europe and the USA?

Since refereeing is not something a player should be concerned about :), there are not many differences I can think of. One team has to score more goals than the other to win, water polo is the same everywhere.

We understand that your mother and father were both members of the National Team when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union. Tell us what sports they played and how that has influenced your career in water polo. Is it true that your father often plays on your team?

Yes both of my parents played for national teams of the Soviet Union. My mother was a basketball player and my father played water polo. I was actually forced to pick up sport since the first grade. I tried many sports and I guess it was my fathers influence that I finally picked up water polo.

I have played with my father in a few championships and I think it would be more correct to say that I played for his team, because I made it to the men's team where he played.

Many people in the US believe that European players come to the US to play NCAA water polo and return to their country to beat the USA in the Olympics. Do you feel that playing for LMU will allow you to help Lithuania become an Olympic contender?

Lithuanian water polo team in Olympics... I guess US people shouldn‘t be too worried about that.

In 2006, you played in the US Premier League Division 1 as part of the Northeast Zone Team while you were visiting the US.  How did it feel to play against Olympic players from the USA and score a couple of goals on Brandon Brooks when you were only 16?

It was the first time I  had ever  played against the Top level players, it was really exciting to participate there with all the incredible players. It was funny, after the  games I was collecting autographs from my opponents on a Mikasa ball that is still one of my favorite memories from water polo.

Ed AsajaviciusYou have been offered a couple of professional contracts in Europe to play this year. Are you disappointed to be giving up a Pro career for college?

Those were more“ study and play“ contracts, so I  think I chose the best for me. For athletes my age in Europe, you have a choice to have a free education and a small salary or take a larger salary.  My career is only beginning so I can‘t be disappointed spending 4 years at a university like LMU. Although I love water polo, my education is my future and that is the most important thing right now. My education will last a lifetime and water polo will sadly end when I am in my thirties or forties.

Can we expect to see you turn professional after 4 years at LMU?

Well I definitely won‘t stop playing water polo. Which level it will be? We‘ll see. I know that Coach Loughran and Coach Witt will help to prepare me for any water polo career I wish after University.  Four years at LMU will give me a college degree and the chance to gain some weight and experience that I will definitively need to play professionally.

What do your friends in Lithuania think about you living in Los Angeles for 4 years? Are they     more excited about your US education or the beautiful women in LA?

It will be very hard to be away from home and friends, especially for so long. Yes everyone seems to be impressed when I  tell about studying in US, but you should see them when I tell that university is in California. When I mention the US, they are excited about the education, but California....Well, let‘s say that Los Angeles is very famous in the rest of the world and I have many people offer to come visit me there.

All of us at Water Polo Planet wish Ed,  the team and coaches of LMU the best in the 2008 season.