Michigan's Brazdeikis determined to 'prove a lot of people wrong' on NBA Draft night
For most NBA Draft prospects, there’s usually a point during their college career where they feel ready to make the jump to the pros.
But for Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis, that feeling hit well before he ever set foot in Ann Arbor.
“To be perfectly honest, I felt like I was prepared for the next level five years ago but that's just the mentality that I have,” Brazdeikis told The Detroit News in a phone interview Tuesday. “I'm very confident and I definitely felt coming into Michigan that I was ready for this level.
"As I was playing, I felt so comfortable on the court and I felt so good. I just knew that I'm meant to be a professional.”
That belief only continued to grow during his lone season with the Wolverines. Brazdeikis, 20, started all 37 games, shot 39.2 percent from 3-point range and averaged a team-high 14.8 points — the first Michigan freshman to do so since Trey Burke in 2011-12.
He shined against some of the nation’s top programs — highlighted by his 18-point showing at Villanova, 24-point outburst against North Carolina and 20 points in 22 minutes at Michigan State — and racked up plenty of accolades, including Big Ten freshman of the year, all-conference second team and Associated Press All-America honorable mention honors.
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Throughout the year, Brazdeikis said he developed into a pro, crediting former coach John Beilein for improving his IQ level and offensive decision-making and former assistant Luke Yaklich for pushing him toward of his goal of becoming “a two-way elite player.”
But despite all the strides that helped shape him into Beilein's only one-and-done player at Michigan, Brazdeikis has spent the last month showcasing to NBA teams that there’s even more to his game.
“We had a lot of great ball handlers on the team and I felt like I wasn't really given the opportunity to play in a ball screen as much and show off my handling and my perimeter skills,” Brazdeikis said. “But in these (pre-draft) workouts, it's much easier. It's six guys and you just go at each other and I'm mostly playing against guards.
“That's actually catering toward me because I have the skills to do that and I think I'm showing a lot of NBA teams I can handle the ball amongst the best, I can make plays amongst the best and that I am a perimeter player.”
Brazdeikis said he worked out with 13 NBA teams — his last one was Monday with Beilein and the Cleveland Cavaliers — and each one “showed a lot of interest.”
He added the NBA’s deeper 3-point line has helped improve his jumper at all three levels and he feels he has continued to become more consistent at making the right play and right reads.
"I think mostly (in workouts) I was showing that I'm a three and that I can play a three and guard smaller guys, guard bigger guys,” said Brazdeikis, who checked in at 6-foot-7.25 and 220 pounds at the NBA Combine last month.
“I was showing that I'm positionless and showing that I have the perimeter skills and the shot and everything to play with those kinds of players. I think I definitely proved that.”
Early on this past season, Brazdeikis’ name began to surface as a late first-round draft pick in several mock drafts after his impressive start. However, much has changed since then.
Several major publications’ most recent two-round mock drafts, like ESPN and NBADraft.net, don’t even have him listed. Sports Illustrated has Brazdeikis pegged as a late second-rounder and one of the last few picks at No. 57, while Bleacher Report ranks him No. 44 among the publication's top 50 draft prospects.
“It really doesn't affect me,” said Brazdeikis, who added he’s “very confident” with what he’s heard about his draft range. “All I care about is what all these NBA teams think about me and what I think about myself.
“I’m going to prove a lot of people wrong but also prove myself right because I've always thought of myself as being the best player and I think I'm beginning to show that. It definitely inspires me to show that I can do anything and that I can achieve anything.”
Come Thursday, that will be a lifelong dream Brazdeikis has had since he was 6 years old — hearing his name called on draft night while being surrounded by his friends and family back home in Ontario.
“I'm a big guy on visualization,” Brazdeikis said. “I'm not even kidding, I visualize this stuff every single day. I write it down on pieces of paper and everything. For it to actually happen is going to be no surprise.”
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York