Georgia's Pachulia gung-ho about fourth straight EuroBasket appearance
Georgia's national team is a subject that is near and dear to Zaza Pachulia's heart, which isn't surprising considering he's represented his country for a very, very long time.
A 32-year-old center, Pachulia played for Georgia's cadets team in 1998. He began playing for the senior team in 2000, when Georgia took on Ireland in a qualifying game for FIBA EuroBasket 2003.
It wasn't until 2011, however, following the expansion of FIBA EuroBasket from 16 to 24 teams, that the 2.11m center finally took part in the continent's flagship event.
Because of Georgia's terrific qualifying campaign last summer, Pachulia will in seven months play at yet another FIBA EuroBasket, and it's something that he often thinks about.
"I'm very excited, the fourth time in a row the country has made it to EuroBasket," he said to FIBA.com. "We're going to play in Israel, one of the countries Georgians are familiar with.
"A lot of Georgians live there. It's an exciting moment."
Georgia will take on Italy, Germany, Ukraine, Israel and the team that knocked them out in a thriller of a FIBA EuroBasket 2015 Round of 16 game in Lille, Lithuania, in Group B. The Georgians looked as if they were going to spring a major upset two years ago against Lithuania and reach the Quarter-Finals but fell in the waning seconds.
That 85-81 defeat, and many other tough games at FIBA EuroBaskets over the years, are memories that tell Pachulia that nothing will come easy in Israel as the national team tries to advance from the Group Phase and go further in the competition.
"We'll work really hard to make it," he said. "It's not easy. The country's excited. We're excited, looking forward to the tournament."
"I have played there before so I know how Israeli people love the sport and support their team," he said. "It's going to be fun there." - Pachulia
Pachulia is predicting Tel Aviv will provide an electric atmosphere for the games. He anticipates the clash between Georgia and Israel to be special.
Before becoming an NBA player in 2003, Pachulia played in Israel when he was on the books of Turkish club Ulkerspor. He remembers a trip to face Maccabi Tel Aviv.
"I have played there before so I know how Israeli people love the sport and support their team," he said. "It's going to be fun there."
Georgia will have the advantage of continuity on their roster when they show up in Israel, and Pachulia will know exactly what is expected of him.
"I've been playing for the national team for a long time," he said. "I know my role, what the team needs; just to be a leader. Not necessarily score the most points but just overall be a leader, play hard.
"That's the only way I know. Just enjoy it and give your best, 100 percent to help the team win games."
Pachulia, meanwhile, has made some headlines this season with the Golden State Warriors. In his first season with the club, Pachulia got a lot of votes to play in the NBA All-Star Game. He ultimately missed out but millions of fans, including Georgians, had wanted to see him in the lineup.
"It was amazing," he said of collecting so many votes. "It was special."