Michigan's Ignas Brazdeikis had his first team workout, for the Pistons, on Monday after a strong NBA Combine. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Auburn Hills — Although Ignas Brazdeikis grew up in Canada, he belies many of the traits often associated with those north of the border. His confident — often brash — demeanor could just as easily be representative of a young, flashy player from New York or Philadelphia or even Chicago, where Brazdeikis’ family lived for a couple of years before settling in Oakville, Ontario.
In his one season at Michigan, Brazdeikis’ personality has become as much of his calling card as his fiery on-court play. After a good performance last week at the NBA draft combine in Chicago, Brazdeikis is poised to be selected in the draft on June 20.
Where that is remains the big question for Brazdeikis, who averaged 14.8 points and 5.4 rebounds and hit 39 percent on 3-pointers for Michigan. Some mock drafts project him being a second-round selection but with a good week at the combine, he could vault up a bit more.
“From feedback with my agents, they’re telling me 20 to 40,” Brazdeikis said Monday. “I’m just enjoying (the experience) and taking it one step at a time. (The combine) was the first time I was a professional and wearing nice suits to the meetings.
“Everything is a step above college. I’m enjoying all the basketball and competition and now I’m working out for NBA teams and it’s surreal.”
On Monday, he completed his first NBA individual workout, for the Pistons, though he hasn’t formally announced that he will forego the rest of his college eligibility.
That seems to be a formality, especially after Michigan coach John Beilein announced last week that he was leaving the Wolverines to become the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I’m definitely leaning toward staying in (the draft) for sure. I talked to my agents and they said they were going to make an announcement about it soon about it,” Brazdeikis reiterated Monday. “(Beilein’s departure) definitely plays a role, for sure. Coach Beilein is the reason I came to Michigan in the first place and seeing him leave affects that decision.”
All signs point to Brazdeikis leaving for the NBA, but if he isn’t drafted, he still could return to Michigan, if he chooses to keep that door open. More likely, he’ll take the challenge of becoming a pro and all that goes with it.
And he’s ready for it.
“I’ve done a great job this year at Michigan to show many aspects of my game. It’s being mentally ready and I’m mature enough and I have the mentality to succeed at the next level,” he said. “Definitely, playing (at the combine), I felt comfortable among the best players. That plays a role in it.”
At 6-foot-7, 221 pounds, Brazdeikis can play both wing spots and also can guard smaller power forwards. That’ll be the biggest transition for him — although he’s 20, he’ll have to get stronger to hold his own against grown men.
There’s no lack of self-confidence from Brazdeikis, who reminds some of another Wolverines wing from Canada, Nik Stauskas, who helped convince Brazdeikis that Michigan was the place for him.
Stauskas, a five-year NBA veteran, was regarded for being a solid trash-talker in his time at Michigan, something that escaped Brazdeikis.
“I didn’t actually know that about him. I actually thought he was always humble,” Brazdeikis said. “I didn’t know until I got to Michigan that we were similar. My personality came out naturally; I didn’t know that about him.”
In his seven years coaching the Raptors, Pistons coach Dwane Casey got to know the landscape of Canadian basketball and the pipeline of young players that was building, including the likes of Jamal Murray, Andrew Wiggins, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Tristan Thompson and adding a few this year, including Duke’s R.J. Barrett and Brazdeikis.
Despite the talk about his outward displays of confidence, Brazdeikis makes no apologies for who he is and how he plays. He said teams haven’t asked about it in his interviews but that balance of confidence and flair is part of what has made him successful.
“They have asked about it before but I’m a big believer in myself and what I do and how people think about it or react to it is on them — it’s not on me,” Brazdeikis said. “I’m not going to change because of how people feel about me. I’m definitely confident but humble as well.
“I’m grateful for every opportunity and people who gave me the opportunity to be in this position. It’s important to have a good mixture but I have to be myself at the same time.”
Like Stauskas, Brazdeikis’ heritage is Lithuanian, but their game can overshadow their other traits — even the talk. In the past decade, the pipeline of players from Canada has flowed more and they’re turning heads with their talent as well as their talk.
Playing for the Pistons would be a big boost for Brazdeikis, adding to the fan base that he’s already built in the area.
“You need an edge coming from Canada. It’s changing now. Canadians are getting a lot more respect as basketball players. Maybe that’s where it comes from,” Brazdeikis said. “It would be amazing to be in Michigan and having that support with the Michigan family and being close to home and playing for an amazing organization like the Pistons would be amazing.”