By Chris Gionta
On June 24, Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida State and Wake Forest fans awaited top-15 recruit Matas Buzelis’s decision for where he was going to play after high school. However, all four fan bases were disappointed to see that Buzelis was not attending any of their universities. Instead, Buzelis took the less popular route of playing for the NBA-affiliated G League with their development team called “NBA G League Ignite.”
To enter the NBA Draft, players must be at least 19 years old. With most top high school recruits graduating at the age of 18, they usually play in college for at least one year. Buzelis chose the path of what is considered the NBA’s “minor league,” where potential stars get developed before arriving to the big stage.
On the NBA G League’s website, it describes what Ignite is.
“NBA G League Ignite is a first-of-its-kind team dedicated to developing top young prospects in preparation for the NBA Draft.”
It is a new route to travel through, given this program started in 2020. The overwhelming majority of top high school recruits still choose to play college basketball instead, but the professional aspect of NBA G League Ignite attracted Buzelis.
“[What this offers is] just focusing on basketball, weight lifting, just playing basketball every day. Playing against professionals,” Buzelis said. “The pros [of playing in the G League] is playing against good players every day.”
Given the fact that the usual path to the NBA is through college, his decision did not come with ease. Luckily, he had a stable support system to help him through the process.
“My mom and my dad ﹣they were the main two,” Buzelis said of the people who helped him with his tough choice. “And then my [AAU] coach Dmitry [Pirshin].”
Buzelis understands what he could potentially be missing at the college level, but is perfectly content not having those experiences.
“Without playing college, [I am] losing playing in March Madness and stuff like that, but I don’t really care about that stuff,” Buzelis said.
What the G League provides for Buzelis is a more accurate depiction of the day-to-day NBA lifestyle, along with the game itself.
“They have NBA schedules, NBA practices, NBA 3’s, NBA rules ﹣ everything,” Buzelis said. “They don’t have that in college.”
No matter where Buzelis would have played next year, he will be receiving an abundance of attention in the 2024 NBA Draft. At 6-foot-11, he is a major factor in the paint, but also provides a dangerous threat from the outside with a smooth jumper. ESPN ranks him No. 11 in the Class of 2023, and 247Sports has him at No. 5.
Buzelis will not have as much of a national spotlight on him as he would have playing college basketball, but that is only delaying fate.
His skill and notoriety has scouts all over him, and if his success on the court continues, that national spotlight will soon shine bright upon him when he dons an NBA jersey in the near future.
Photo: Luke Whitehouse/The Student