Buzelis is poised for big-time bounce

Former Red Devil's versatility has elevated teen among top targets of NBA teams

One point from victory in the Rising Stars semifinal during the NBA's All-Star weekend in February in Indianapolis, former Hinsdale Central basketball player Matas Buzelis got control of the ball after a teammate's miss.

Posting up his defender, the 19-year-old took two dribbles, spun to his left and drained a fadeaway 10-footer to clinch Team Detlef's championship berth in thrilling fashion. The clutch bucket also helped fan the already strong interest around the 6-foot-10-inch phenom.

While the NBA Draft isn't until June 27, armchair general managers have been handicapping the 2024 prospects since last year. The more credible mock drafts project Buzelis as a top-10 selection, generally between fifth and seventh overall in the most recent iterations.

Buzelis, who currently plays for the Las Vegas-based developmental NBA G League Ignite franchise, returned to the Chicago area March 1 for a game against the Windy City Bulls in Hoffman Estates. His appearance naturally attracted a lot of hometown well-wishers in the stands as well a couple of pro scouts for teams potentially in the running for his talents.

"He's kind of a Swiss Army knife," one scout told this reporter during the game. "He can shoot, he can handle the ball, he's a good passer. Everyone is looking for a guy that can fill different roles and play different positions."

Buzelis hopes his play on the other end of the court also garners respect

"My defensive instincts, blocking shots," he replied after the game when asked about the greatest growth in his game in his six-month G League journey. "Defensively I think I could be the best two-way player. That's just how I feel."

Hinsdale Central head freshman basketball coach Colin Doyle recounted when the tall thin freshman came out for summer training.

"The first thing we noticed about him was he was a little shy," Doyle said. "But his personality came out."

And so did his ability, which earned him a spot on the sophomore squad.

"I remember in the first game, he caught a ball on the baseline and went to dunk it over his opponent - and did it! He had the mindset to attack a kid so much bigger than him," Doyle related. "We had never had someone with that much skill."

Buzelis also demonstrated an adaptability that has served him well.

"He was a great teammate. There were a bunch of kids who really didn't know each other, and he fit in so well with them," Doyle said.

When COVID shut down high school sports here, Buzelis transferred to a private school in New Hampshire where he could continue to play before finishing his prep journey at Sunrise Academy in Kansas. Buzelis' unwillingness to waver from his goal of reaching the NBA helped him

navigate the relocations.

"You've got to have a routine and do the same stuff every day," he remarked. "It's easy for me. I was born to work and get better."

Ignite's roster of skilled, mostly under-21 players makes for high energy but few wins against more experienced lineups. The team's last-place status was clearly weighing on the fierce competitor after the loss to Windy City. Buzelis, who filled the stat sheet with 24 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, called it "just a regular game," but clearly he'd hoped for a different result with so many family and friends in attendance. He spent a good 30 minutes post-game on the court taking selfies and visiting with them.

"We didn't get the 'dub' but we tried our hardest," he said after the impromptu reunion ended. "It's been crazy, honestly, just working, getting better, trying to progress. Trying to get some (wins) is tough since we're a young team."

Doyle said he witnessed Buzelis' tight-knit family relationships and knows he's kept tabs on younger brother Vincas' performance as a junior member of the Red Devils varsity team this past season. He's also witnessed the elder's relentless drive to get better.

"He always wanted to get better. He's really mature as a person and as player," Doyle said. "He's just always been a really good kid, and he's just continued to get better."

Those in NBA front offices apparently have noticed that as well, setting up what's likely to be a life-changing day for Buzelis less than three months from now.

"I'm getting ready, staying in shape and getting better every day," he said of his pre-draft preparation.

His confidence, to be sure, is already an area of strength.

"I always believed in myself, even when others didn't, and have always felt like I was going to be the best," he said. Buzelis said he is thankful for those who remember him from his youth and have maintained their support of him.

"I appreciate you guys," he said. "You guys show a lot of love to me."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean