The Wolverine

December 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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38 THE WOLVERINE DECEMBER 2018 BY JOHN BORTON D on't expect Ignas "Iggy" Brazdeikis to begin his col- lege basketball life bowing before his elders. He won't. They're more likely to catch an el- bow as he scrapes past them on his way to the rim and hear about it af- terward. The 6-7 swingman out of Mono, Ontario, originally from Lithuania, carries the combined shyness of former Wolverines Jalen Rose and Nik Stauskas onto the Crisler Center court. In other words, he's as apt to be intimidated as linebacker Devin Bush Jr. confronting a phalanx of Spartans. "He's a bulldog," assured Michigan assistant coach Saddi Washington. "Iggy has been impressive. He has this confidence about himself that a lot of freshmen don't typically come in with. He's been able to produce at a level that has given him some confidence that he'll be able to con- tribute to our squad this year." That production included lead- ing the Wolverines in scoring and rebounding during Michigan's pre- season trip to Spain. His averages (15.7 points, 7.0 rebounds) served notice that the seen-but-not-heard rookie route isn't for him, and it con- tinued in the first two regular-sea- son games, after which he paced the team in scoring (15.5 per game) and ranked third in rebounding (5.5). Head coach John Beilein assessed prior to the season that Brazdeikis could become a starter for the Wol- verines. The rookie received that news with all the shock of a Thun- der Bay resident wandering outside in February and discovering it to be chilly. "I came in here this year, even dur- ing the summer, with very big expec- tations," Brazdeikis offered. "Every- where I go, I carry a lot of confidence with me. No matter what position or where I am, I'm going to keep that confidence up. "I believe in myself more than any- one. To say I'm a potential starter is not really a surprise to me. I feel like I'm ready for that, for sure." SKILLS IN ABUNDANCE Brazdeikis obviously isn't alone in that opinion. The five- star recruit possesses the prep num- bers, the measurables and the dem- onstrated on-court ability against higher-level competition to back his swagger. He posted clips of 30 points and 10 rebounds a game as a junior at Orangeville Prep in Ontario, then followed it up with a senior season scoring 28.4 pounds and pulling down 8.4 rebounds on average. He scored 31 against top-ranked Oak Hill at the 2017 Jordan Brand Invitational to lead his Orangeville Prep team to an upset victory. Michigan's trip to Spain wasn't his first fiesta, either. He averaged 14.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists in pushing Canada to a fifth-place fin- ish in the U17 FIBA World Champi- onships in Zaragoza, Spain, in 2016. He's been around, and those who have watched him say he's here to stay. Beilein indicated Brazdeikis' ver- satility allows him to play at either power forward or shooting guard in his system. He can shoot it from deep and loves to take it to the rim. "Iggy has been such a pleasure to coach," Beilein said. "The kid wants to be such a good player. For a kid who is so highly rated, a kid who is so college ready to play, he's a sponge. "This a guy like the [Tim] Hard- aways, the [Caris] LeVerts or [Nik] Stauskas — the guys who came in and who were sponges. That's good for all of us to coach. "It's yes-sir, no-sir. I love coaching him. He's got a chance to play right away." When confronted with the ques- tion of what he does best, Brazdeikis doesn't hesitate. "Score the basketball," he said. "I can score on many different levels. I've really improved on my shot since I've been here. I can slash, and I really enjoy making plays for others as well." Brazdeikis' defense needs to play some catch-up, like it does with nearly all college freshmen. He ad- mits there's a much faster pace to it, with quick closeouts, more help re- sponsibilities and greater all-around demands. He's learning to embrace defense, in part because it leads to offense. "He's deflecting the ball, and he's stealing the ball," Beilein said. "He knows that if he can get a stop on defense, we're running, and he likes to run." "I love the open court," Brazdei- kis confirmed. "I love going up and down. I'm starting to fall in love with defense, too. I never really liked de- fense, but Coach Yak [Luke Yaklich] brought this mentality out of me where I'm really starting to embrace it. I'm feeling like I could do really well defending multiple positions." SWAG FROM THE START Forward Ignas Brazdeikis Enters His Freshman Season Bearing Huge Expectations Brazdeikis was one of 32 recruits in the 2018 class awarded a five-star ranking by Rivals. com, although he was not given a numerical rank because he is from Canada. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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