Q & A: 'Moon Dog' Burneika howling with joy

HONOLULU -- Mindaugas Burneika enjoys winning, and the sound of a mellow Riley Wallace is soothing to his ear. Ask about dorm life, though, and he's a little less enthusiastic.

Q & A:
'Moon Dog' howls with joy

By Paul Honda
Senior Writer
Thursday, Feb. 14, 2002

HONOLULU -- Mindaugas Burneika is just one of the plethora of international souls who are bringing Hawaii fans a season to remember.

Hawaii is 20-4 (11-2 in Western Athletic Conference play) due in part to the sparkplug action of Burneika. The 6-foot-6 forward provides smart defense and lights-out offense to give UH an edge in depth.

The first time I met him, he was in the upstairs practice gym, working on his outside shot.

Elbow a little bit out, I thought. He'll be an erratic shooter at best, I concluded. And he kept working on that shot as I rebounded. Boy, was I wrong.

Burneika, 23, has globe-trotted from Lithuania to Texas to the middle of the Pacific. Have basketball, will travel. He still misses his grandma's cooking, though, and sees a day when he'll live next to a lake with his family and dogs. Until then, though, it's another day in paradise.

Why did you choose this college?

I thought we'd have a chance to win the conference. And Nerijus (Puida). I played with him in Texas.

What aspects of your college have met and not met your expectations?

I think the big thing is winning the conference, going from being the sixth seed to winning. And winning 20 games and we're in the middle of the season; one of the biggest things in UH history. I'll tell my kids about it

What has been different about your training regimen at college?

Here we try to run the offense. In high school, we had more freedom. Coach didn't care as long as we  won. Here's we have to run the offense.

What have been the biggest challenges and differences since leaving Lithuania?

Being away from friends. I accept that -- that I'm on my own. No one is around to help you. I was 19 when I left for Texas.

If you could go back in time with all your wisdom, what would you advise yourself as a high school freshman?

I think, work a little harder. Coaches were telling us all the time, work hard. We always thought coaches wanted more than me. That was a problem. Believe in myself and work harder than I was working.

Still, I'm happy that I have something to improve and get better. It's not like I'm at the top. I can improve my quickness and my shot. That's good.

Favorite movie of all time and why:

Right now, I like "Black Hawk Down". I dunno. I like the explosions. I lived in that time when we separated from Russia. We had the biggest military bases in my country. I grew up seeing people walking around with guns. In Europe there's always something going on. I liked "The Negotiator" with Samuel Jackson and Kevin Spacey. I like true stories, or what could be true stories.

I can watch "The Wedding Planner". I won't cry during that. I can cry during Black Hawk Down.

Favorite TV show of all time and why:

Probably "Friends". It's funny. They show life. It seems like a college class. When I was growing up in Lithuania, we were joking around all the time, making mistakes and everyone's laughing. It's fun to relax and enjoy that show.

Favorite singer/musician/group of all time and why:

I like all kinds of music. I listen to Russian and Lithuanian music. Liube. Music about war, like in Afghanistan. Strong. Not political, but about young guys who went there and died. It makes you think. And Bon Jovi.

Do you miss Lithuanian food? Where do you get it here?

I miss this dish, mashed potatoes, and inside there's pork. Cepelinai. My mom, my grandmother make it. If you're making it for a lot of family and friends, it takes an hour. We tried getting it here a couple times, but it's not like my mom (Janina) or grandmother or my father (Edvardas) makes.

What is dorm food like? What do you like most and least?

I hate most rice. Every single day, I eat rice. Rice, rice, rice. It's better than the potatoes they make here. Cafeteria food here is different. We don't have time to cook.

Are the coaches what you expected? How are they different?

I think this year, Riley's more mellow. He's not yelling that much. We don't have the guys where you have to raise your voice. We have nice guys. No jerks. Last year, we didn't have that much yelling, too.

This year is more friendly. Everyone knows what you can do. The bad thing is we have to follow all the rules. I'm 23 years old and I have to stay on campus. That's the rule, and we can't change his. The football players can (live off campus), but not the basketball players.

Doesn't winning help? He won't relax the rules?

Well, you can try. Riley's not joking. It must be that way.

What has been the highlight of your season? Your career?

In the U.S. I won third place in the nation (JC) my freshman year. Second thing is the WAC (title). Another thing, in Europe, we won a lot of things (tournaments). 

What are your roommates like?

My roommate is Savo. That's it. We share one apartment. It's fun. He's never home. He's always studying somewhere else. When he's home, it's nice. We don't argue. We understand each other. We're seniors. We like playing games. X-Box. Halo.

How different has the weather been? What do you like or dislike about the difference?

Texas was hot. In the summer, it was around 120. You have to walk from one building to another because it was so hot. Air conditioning. Lithuania, we have four seasons. I miss that. Hawaii, all the time it's summer. So I miss snow. We had some snow in Dallas, so we played in the snow.

What's your major?

Sports Psychology and Exercise Science. I like sports and always wanted to be a coach or be around the team. Help basketball players to improve and get better. Sometimes you can see wasted talent. You just want to go and help them.

How many people from Lithuania are here? How many of them do you make contact with on a regular basis?

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