“That really drove me to prove everyone wrong,” Brazdeikis said. “And now I feel like I’m one of the strongest and more athletic players out there. So, you know, I never really doubted myself.”
Around this time, Brazdeikis started working out with another Lithuanian-Canadian basketball player — former Michigan star Nik Stauskas. When Michigan came calling, Brazdeikis already knew of the program thanks to his relationship with Stauskas.
“He went to Michigan and he’s Lithuanian-Canadian, we’re in similar positions,” Brazdeikis said. “What he said I took in very deeply.”
A relationship with Beilein was forged quickly. Brazdeikis’ primary contact, former assistant coach Jeff Meyer, left for Butler in June of 2017. Beilein took over the recruitment and separated himself from other coaches with text messages that were so detailed Brazdeikis had to take special care with his responses.
When Brazdeikis visited campus, he found a kindred spirit in his host, former Michigan center Moritz Wagner. Wagner, born and raised in Germany, earned a reputation in college as a fiery, emotional player. He was never afraid to speak his mind, and he played with immense confidence.
During the visit, Wagner had a message for Brazdeikis that still resonates today: “If you’re a pro, you’re a pro.”
What does that mean to Brazdeikis?
“I believe he’s saying if you’re meant to be a pro, you’re going to be a professional basketball player,” Brazdeikis said. “That’s what it’s going to be.”
Brazdeikis believes in the message. His family does, too. When asked if Brazdeikis would have enjoyed the same success had the family stayed in Lithuania, Sigis said yes.
There’s a chance Brazdeikis’ on-court demeanor could remind some of Wagner’s. He has the same passion for the game, the same belief in himself that his predecessor did.
Which makes it fitting that Brazdeikis chose to wear No. 13, Wagner’s old number.
The hype has started
So far, the hype surrounding Brazdeikis has only intensified. When the Wolverines played three exhibition games in Spain this past August, Brazdeikis led the team in scoring. At Big Ten Media Day, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann named Brazdeikis as a top freshman in the conference.
At Michigan, he has endeared himself to those within the program.
Beilein called him “a pleasure to coach” and a “sponge” when it comes to learning the game. Assistant coach Saddi Washington called Brazdeikis a “bulldog.”
“Iggy’s been impressive,” Washington said. “I think he has this confidence about himself that a lot of freshman don’t typically come in with. He’s been able to produce at a level that I think has given him some confidence to know that he’ll be able to contribute to our squad this year.”
Sophomore forward Isaiah Livers thinks Brazdeikis has the same mindset as UFC superstar Conor McGregor — “he’s going to go at at you.”
“It can probably rub people as arrogant, cocky, but we love it here,” Livers said. “Me and Charles (Matthews), we talk about it all the time, that guy, he doesn’t care about anything. He has so much confidence.”
“If you’ve got confidence in yourself,” added sophomore guard Jordan Poole, “it’s definitely going to take you a long way.”
With the regular season approaching, Brazdeikis has a lot on his plate. He’s trying to learn how to play the two and the four — maybe even the three — while adjusting to the pace of the college game.
Still, Michigan expects a lot out of its highly-touted freshman. A starting role is not out of the question.
“He’s got a chance to play right away,” Beilein said. “Could be in the starting lineup. We’ll wait to see what happens, but he’s doing a really good job.”
As a kid, Brazdeikis loved Kobe Bryant. Then he began to watch Manu Ginóbili and James Harden.
Like those three, Brazdeikis is a scorer, with a scorer’s mentality.
“I feel like that’s what I do best,” Brazdeikis said. “I can shoot, I can attack, I can play in-between. I feel like that’s definitely my bread and butter. And I don’t shy away from that.
“I love creating plays for others, as well. I love playing offense and playing with the ball. I’m a very intense and emotional player. When I’m on the court, I put myself out there and do my best. I’m going to give it all every time I’m on the court.”
Brazdeikis says every time he plays basketball, he thinks he’s the best player on the court. That has never changed for him. He doesn’t think it ever will.
Those are big words. But Brazdeikis is ready to back them up. He has spent his entire life doing so.
“I look at other players, but I have my own game,” Brazdeikis said. “I have my own take on it. There’s not been a Michigan player that’s been like me.”