Former UM hoops star Ignas Brazdeikis loved by his Magic teammates

By Chris Hayes
Orlando Sentinel

Ignas Brazdeikis signed a two-way contract with the Orlando Magic earlier this week, but don’t think for a second that the 6-foot-6 forward is treated any differently than as a full-time Magic roster player by his teammates.

Being a two-way player means Brazdeikis can be on the Magic active roster for no more than 50 games this upcoming season. His locker room presence is quite positive. His teammates love him and just being around the rest of the squad for nearly two-thirds of the season can only help the team’s chemistry.

Orlando Magic forward Ignas Brazdeikis goes up for a shot against Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, May 14, 2021, in Philadelphia.

Brazdeikis is quite an intriguing person – teammates make him laugh when they try to figure out what race or nationality he is.

“I thought he was Black when I first started talking to him. … He’s got a little swag to him, man,” Magic point guard Cole Anthony said with a laugh. “Cool cat, really cool dude, a teammate who really plays hard, he’s athletic, strong, plays for the team, so big shout to Iggy.”

Brazdeikis is actually very white. He was born in Lithuania but barely spent any time there, moving to Canada when he was quite young. He signed with Michigan after starring at his Canadian high school but never was a teammate of brothers Mo or Franz Wagner, who also went to Michigan and are on the Magic roster.

When first approaching Brazdeikis, a stranger might expect a strong Lithuanian accent and broken English. When the forward starts talking, however, he sounds like a guy from middle America, with very little accent and a strong command of the English language.

Adding to the Brazdeikis mystique is that he shoots left-handed, although he is actually right-handed in almost every other way.

When told of Anthony’s assessment of him, Brazdeikis laughed.

“That’s too funny .. he’s told me that before,” Brazdeikis said. “Cole’s my guy. He’s got good energy all the time and he’s a fun guy to be around.”

Brazdeikis is a tough competitor and is averaging seven points and 3.5 rebounds through three games of NBA Summer League play. He’s also averaged 11 minutes a game and has been accurate with his shots, hitting 9-of-19 field goals for 47 percent, including 2-of-6 from 3-point range.

He showed up to postgame availability following the Magic’s blowout loss to the Boston Celtics on Thursday with a bandage above his left eye where he caught an elbow during the game. He said trainers put two stitches in the wound.

Brazdeikis is excited about his two-way deal with the Magic.

“I just feel like it would be a great opportunity and it’s a great steppingstone for me and my career,” Brazdeikis said. “It’s a great organization, great people and I loved finishing the 1 / 82020-213 / 8 season off with Orlando.

“I got the opportunity to play, enjoyed every single moment of it and I just felt like it’s a great spot for me and my career.”

The fact that his deal is only a two-way structure doesn’t bother him.

“I just see it as a great opportunity,” Brazdeikis said. “I know what I’m capable of on the court and comfortable with my abilities. Orlando’s a great organization and they develop their guys. I feel like if I play hard and do what I need to do, the opportunity is going to be there and I’m just going to give it my all every single day and see how it goes.”

He was a second-round selection – No. 47 overall – in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings, who immediately traded his rights to the New York Knicks. He spent most of his first two years with the Westchester G League team and was traded to Philadelphia in 2021. He appeared in one game, but the Sixers waived him after two weeks.

In stepped the Magic, who signed Brazdeikis to a 10-day contract in April. He made his debut on May 3, scoring 14 points in his first game and recording a then career-high 14 points in the Magic’s 119–112 win over Detroit. Two days later he posted a career-high 21 points on the Sixers, the team that had waived him.

Brazdeikis played the final eight games of this past season, averaging seven points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.

“It helped me a lot,” Brazdeikis said of those eight games. “Being in the NBA for two years, that was really my first opportunity to play … I got to experience what it’s like to play at that level being a rotational player and an impact player, so I feel like I know what to expect for me this season.”