Hoops and heritage fueling Martinas Geben's breakout senior season
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - "Trying to lead by example, do what I can to help the team win and perform well"
From riding the bench early in his career to battling some of the nation's best big men in the ACC, Martinas Geben's approach fuels him every time he touches the hardwood.
"I always take the attitude of an underdog," said Notre Dame's breakout senior forward. "That helps me perform better. That kind of relieves the pressure. I'm going up against all these big names with NBA scouts looking at them, so I have nothing to lose."
So far, he's been up to the task.
Even though he rarely saw the floor in his first two season and was at best a role player his junior year, Geben's play has seen a sharp increase in his senior season. He has more than tripled his scoring average to 10 points per game, and doubled his rebound average to nearly eight per game.
Many in the Joyce Center attribute Geben's jump to his experience in the 2017 World University Games, where he and the Lithuanian team took gold.
"We're a small country but basketball is something we pride ourselves in," said Geben of his home country. "That's kind of our business card. That's how we introduce ourselves to other countries around the world. It's been an honor to wear Lithuania across my chest and my jersey."
Not only did the experience spur his rise at Notre Dame, but it also allowed Geben to reconnect with the home he left in 2011.
Geben as a young boy playing with a toy basketball in Lithuania (Courtesy: Geben Family)Martinas Geben Youth Basketball
Geben playing in his hometown of Vilnius, Lithuania (Courtesy: Geben Family)Early Skills
Geben displaying his skill as he grows older (Courtesy: Geben Family)
A native of the Lithuanian captial Vilnius, Geben reclassified upon his arrival to the US. He repeated his high school sophomore year to begin the new journey at St. Maria Goretti in Maryland. Immediately, he noticed a difference in the way basketball was taught and played in America.
"In Lithuania, I remember basketball was always very much so focused on the team and playing well as a team and running the sets that we do. Here, from the first day, I noticed that there was a whole lot more individual preparation and kind of working on the individual before you start training and practicing as a team."
But once Geben adapted to the speed and physicality of the American game, his roots began to give him an advantage and now serve as the foundation for his vital role with the Irish.
"I think growing up in a team-based system, that's kind of raised me as a basketball player and given me the attitude of 'team first.' That's definitely helped me throughout my career in high school and here."
Still, Geben's journey is unique in the Irish locker room. While much of his family is a world away, those back in Europe catch highlights online. Some immediate family is in America, but it's not a guarantee that they can make every game.
"They’re able to make some road games and special occasions," he said. "I value their time and commitment to come support me. It’s definitely different than some of my teammates whose parents are able to be here every game, but that just makes me much more grateful for the times they’re able to be here.”
Some of the Geben family lives in the US, and some have to watch online from Europe. (Courtesy: Geben Family)Family Stateside
With some family a world away, Martinas says those with him are valued more than ever. (Courtesy: Geben Family)
Geben has started every game in his senior campaign. However, those times his family made it to a game, they would mostly see him on the bench. For the first time, the team-first player began wondering when he'd get a chance to shine.
"As a young basketball player, it was tough to comprehend why," Geben said of his early years in South Bend. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't consider transferring somewhere else where I could play right away, but I ultimately bought into the vision that there’s something greater than me here."
That vision has now come to fruition, and he says it made this year more special.
"I bought into the program and into the team, and just worked hard and was waiting for my turn to play and contribute. It was definitely tough but I experienced a lot of growth in those times.”
Now as a key contributor and a captain, Geben uses his journey as motivation for himself, as well as younger players wondering if Notre Dame was the right decision.
"Some people are going to start right away and some people are going to have to wait their turn. I've definitely been able to talk to some guys and say, ‘Hey, I was in that position a couple years ago and I understand how tough it may be, but if you love the coaching staff and you’ve bought into the program and love your teammates, then you’re going to get your shot and all will be worth it.'”