Ignas Brazdeikis stops by The CrossoverThe latest episode of The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas features a Turkish Airlines EuroLeague rookie who has been making waves with Zalgiris Kaunas: Ignas Brazdeikis. After spending the first few years of his professional career in the NBA, Brazdeikis decided to return to the city and country of his birth – Kaunas, Lithuania – to play for Zalgiris.
After leaving Kaunas for Chicago, United States, at the age of three before later growing up in Canada, Brazdeikis has come full circle in every sense of the word. First, he returned to the U.S. to play for the University of Michigan and then feature in the NBA with New York, Philadelphia and Orlando, before heading to Lithuania last summer to join Zalgiris as he went in search of a more defined role on the court.
Even though Brazdeikis's father hated basketball, the 24-year-old developed a love for the game that has only been enhanced during his time representing Zalgiris and suiting up for the Lithuanian national team.
"I fell in love with the game at probably 6-7 years old," explains Brazdeikis. "Outside of our apartment [in Canada], there was an outdoor basketball court and I would just spend hours a day there just playing, and there would be older guys there. Then, once my pops saw that I had a passion for the game, he put me in this Lithuanian church team and everything grew from there."
Brazdeikis went on to play a total of 64 games in the NBA across three seasons, in which he suited up for New York, Philadelphia and Orlando, but it was not always a straightforward journey. Following a turbulent first three years of his career, he took the decision last summer to return to Kaunas and play for Zalgiris in the EuroLeague.
Perhaps more importantly, Brazdeikis wanted to find a place where he would feel valued and find his role. At Zalgiris, he found just that.
"I definitely want to play among the best players in the world, so the NBA is always where I wanted to play, but I knew that the EuroLeague is almost not even a step behind the NBA," he shares. "I knew that being able to play here, I would be competing among the best players in this world. At this point in my career, I just wanted an opportunity to have a consistent role somewhere, just to be a part of the rotation."
Comparisons are often drawn between life in the NBA and life in the EuroLeague, but for Brazdeikis, he believes that there is nothing quite like a EuroLeague game.
"It's not even close," states Brazdeikis when comparing the NBA and the EuroLeague. "The competitive level of the EuroLeague is maybe the highest out of any league in the world, because 34 games and to get into the playoffs, there's only eight teams. It's a battle every single night."
When it came to deciding to sign for Zalgiris, one of the key factors for Bradzeikis was his existing relationship with head coach Kazys Maksvytis, who he also played under at the 2022 EuroBasket tournament with the Lithuanian national team.
"First of all, I knew Kazys because I played with the national team in the window and I liked how he coached and how he approached the game," he describes. "Then, just being from Kaunas and being born here, I felt like it would be a great opportunity to play for this city and try to do something special over here. I just felt like it would be the environment where I can grow the most."
The talk of the town for several months in Kaunas has been the Final Four, which takes place in the middle of May. In a basketball-mad city like Kaunas, where the fans adore the Zalgiris players, it would be a fairy-tale story if the team was able to defy the odds and find itself among the four best teams in Europe, a notion that isn't lost on Brazdeikis.
"I don't think I could even put it into words," he reveals. "I mean, the amount of work that we've put in this year and the Final Four even just being in Kaunas; I can't even imagine what the fans would be like, what the atmosphere would be like. I would say that it would be a dream come true."
The end of the regular season is in sight and the playoffs are just around the corner, so Brazdeikis and his Zalgiris teammates will be determined to book their place in the postseason and keep their dream alive of playing the Final Four in their own backyard at Zalgirio Arena.
With a one-hour format of exclusive one-on-one interviews, The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas goes well beyond the playing court with each podcast to delve into the life experiences that have made his guests protagonists and legends of the EuroLeague. The Crossover debuted in 2018 and has featured such current stars as Mike James, Nicolo Melli and Vasilije Micic, coaching greats such as Georgios Bartzokas, Dimitris Itoudis and Zeljko Obradovic, and legends like Theo Papaloukas, Nikola Vujcic and Mike Batiste, among others.