Like professional NBA stars Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett, Gabas Maldunas ’15 discovered a passion for basketball during his later years in middle and high school. Despite his upbringing in Lithuania, where basketball is the country’s national sport, Maldunas didn’t take to the sport too quickly, admitting he didn’t enjoy it much when he began playing in the second grade. Still, he continued to play at the insistence of his parents, and years later — after growing to an impressive six-foot-nine-inch height — he found his calling as a power-forward and center like Gasol and Garnett did.
No longer the small second-grade boy who didn’t have an interest in dribbling a ball, Maldunas went to high school in New Hampshire — only a short drive from the College — at Holderness School in Plymouth. His time in high school, Maldunas said, was where he had his first experiences playing basketball in America and began to develop his technique on the court before being recruited to play at the collegiate level.
Playing for the Big Green, Maldunas said, was not initially his first option. Originally, the athlete had committed to play for Brown University.
Ultimately, though, Maldunas would de-commit from Brown, and his decision THEN came down to a choice between the University of New Hampshire and Dartmouth. Unsure of which to settle on, Maldunas met with men’s basketball head coach Paul Cormier to learn more about the College’s basketball program. It was after this meeting, Maldunas said, that he made the final decision to join the Big Green.
The face-to-face meeting, Cormier said, gave him a view of Maldunas as a kid with a respectable upbringing.
“Seeing how close he is with his family showed me how sincere he is,” Cormier said. “I knew he would work hard for the team.”
After sealing the deal and matriculating in the fall of 2011, Maldunas exploded onto the courts in his first season and never looked back. As a freshman, he played in every game of the season, led the team in rebounding and garnered Ivy League Rookie of the Week four times. The momentum never slowed down in his sophomore year, as Maldunas was named to the All-Ivy second team — the first Dartmouth player to do so in four years — after leading the team in scoring, blocked shots and rebounds.
With consistently strong performances in his first two seasons, Maldunas was primed to continue his success into junior year. In last season’s early non-conference matches, Maldunas recorded several career highs, including seven blocked shots in a game against Longwood University and 17 rebounds against the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. He played in the first 15 games, leading the Ivy League with 8.5 rebounds per game, before tearing his ACL during a mid-season practice left him benched for the remainder of the schedule.
It was a devastating blow for Maldunas and the team, which suffered a 30-point loss to Harvard University the weekend following his season-ending injury, but he refused to let it stop him. Rather, he used his injury as fuel, determined to recover as quickly as possible so he could get back onto the court for his senior year.
After getting reconstructive surgery last winter, Maldunas took time in the spring to rehabilitate his knee before working on improving his footwork and speed with a former soccer coach this past summer. By last November, he was ready to play in his last season and serve as one of two co-captains on the team.
His recovery, teammate and co-captain Alex Mitola ’16 said, was inspiring for the team.
“He was able to overcome his injury and grow as a player and leader,” Mitola said.
In addition to recording over 100 career blocks — one of only five Big Green players to do so — and 500 career rebounds, Maldunas added another feat to his list of achievements this season. For the first time since Alex Barnett ’09 scored 1,000 career points in a 2008 game against Quinnipiac University, Maldunas joined an elite group with 25 fellow Big Green basketball players that reached the 1,000-point mark. Ending with 11 points in this past weekend’s game against Columbia University gave him exactly enough to reach the benchmark.
Before the game, Maldunas called his family to let them know how close he was to reaching the mark. Knowing they were watching from Lithuania made the moment special for Maldunas, who scored his 1000th point off of a free throw with less than two minutes left to play.
“It’s an honor to be the first player to reach the mark since 2008,” Maldunas said. “But I’m also really proud of the team and how we came away with the win.”
With this distinction, Maldunas will forever be remembered among the likes of former Big Green players Jim Barton ’89 and Seamus Lonergan ’97, who hold the top two records for total points at 2,158 and 1,651 points, respectively.
“It’s great that he made 1,000 career points, especially after his injury,” Mitola said. “It speaks to his dedication.”
In the final six games of the season and his career here at the College, Maldunas has a chance to surpass his current spot at No. 26 on the list of top scorers. His main focus, however, is on finishing the season strong and performing to the best of his ability.
With good defense, Cormier said, Maldunas will continue to be a force for the team.
“When his defense is solid, the offense comes with it,” Cormier said.
For Maldunas, these remaining games will be particularly exciting because his brother and father will attend them, beginning with tonight’s game against Princeton University and tomorrow’s game against the University of Pennsylvania.
“It will be the first time they’ve seen me play since I was in eighth grade,” he said.
Maldunas and the men’s basketball team will take on the Tigers at 7 p.m. tonight and the Quakers at 7 p.m. on Saturday, both games at Leede Arena.