Ignas Brazdeikis, an early-entry candidate, says he's leaning toward staying in the draft. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Chicago — Ignas Brazdeikis got so many text messages on Monday morning that he was concerned that maybe something was wrong.
It turned out that it was just teammates and friends communicating about the news that John Beilein was leaving Michigan to become the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was such a surprise that not even the Michigan players knew it was coming.
“I was surprised, actually; I didn’t see it coming. In the morning, my phone was blowing up and I thought I missed my flight here,” Brazdeikis said Thursday. “I’m happy for him; it’s a big step for him. It’s the right move for him and it’s an exciting time.”
Brazdeikis might be joining Beilein — along with Michigan teammates Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole — in the NBA. Although Brazdeikis is wavering on whether to forego his Michigan eligibility or remain in the draft, he said he’s close to making a decision.
A 6-foot-7 wing, Brazdeikis is projected to be a second-round selection but he’s looking to improve his standing with a good combine performance and by making a better impression in individual workouts.
“I’m getting closer (to a decision),” Brazdeikis said. “My intent from the beginning was to stay in the draft and go as high as I can. I’m pushing toward that and I think I’ll get there.”
He said that Beilein’s departure will weigh into the decision whether to return to Ann Arbor for his sophomore season, though it doesn’t seem likely at this point.
“It definitely does play a role (in the decision) for sure,” he added. “Coach Beilein was the main reason I came to Michigan, so it’s definitely going to play a part in my decision.”
Brazdeikis averaged 14.8 points and 5.4 rebounds and shot 39 percent on 3-pointers, which puts him in a good position as a versatile wing option for NBA teams. But the draft is full of bigger wings who can shoot.
“(With Brazdeikis) it’s about showing that he can make others better and showing that he’s a consistent shooter. I think, because he’s farther along on the offensive end than he is on the defensive end, teams will want to see that he’s a knockdown shooter and that he's a guy who can make others better around him,” ESPN analyst Mike Schmitz said. “He was a perfect fit in John Beilein’s system, playing at that four spot. I want to see what he looks like defensively against more gifted offensive players.”
The key for Brazdeikis will be setting himself apart from the others, which he had an opportunity to do in the shooting drills and in team interviews, where he said teams wanted to get to know his personality.
“They talked to me about what I need to work on and I’m aware of that: to make the right and simple play and it’s the biggest thing for me,” Brazdeikis said. “I’m athletic enough to defend on the perimeter and have the skills to be a guard and I’m a position-less player.”
He said he’s interviewed with nine teams and has meetings scheduled with four more. That’s where he can unveil more of his character and personality and answer some of the tough questions teams will have.
That process began this week and will continue over the next couple of weeks. He said he hasn’t met with the Pistons but has an individual workout scheduled after the combine.
“(Teams are) trying to get a feel for me and get to know my personality and who I am. It’s nice to talk about yourself and not be judged. It’s fun; I like it a lot and confident in the way I talk and I’m excited to be here,” Brazdeikis said. “I say I’m the most confident person there can be and I fear absolutely nothing. I come out here thinking I’m the best player and that’s what I do.”
Jordan Poole said that although Beilein’s departure caught everyone off guard, he’s not mad at the departure. He’s fully committed to remaining in the draft, so he doesn’t have vested interest in who the next coach will be but the announcement was shocking.
“Everybody was surprised,” Poole said. “You can’t be upset — the man wanted to be an NBA coach and he’s proven his resume worthy of being able to coach at the next level and we all support him.”