Draft night surprise: Bulls land suburban product Buzelis at No. 11

Matas Buzelis already had an unlikely story. Even more improbable was the suburban native lasting until the No. 11 pick of the NBA draft and being chosen by the hometown Bulls.

Buzelis and his younger brother, Vincas, were emotional in Brooklyn when the selection was announced.

“Super thankful, very grateful,” Buzelis said on a Zoom call with reporters at the Advocate Center. “I worked really hard to get here, so I just can't thank the Bulls organization enough.”

The 6-foot-9 Buzelis is a fluid athlete who can handle the ball and attack the basket. His jump shot is a work in progress, but his athleticism stands out. One example is his lane agility time at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last month was sixth best among all participants.

His three-quarter-court sprint time of 3.09 seconds is the same as Bronny James. No. 1 overall pick Zaccharie Risacher, essentially the same size, was timed at 3.38 seconds.

“I think I can bring a lot of things to the table,” Buzelis said. “Whatever the coach tells me to do, I'm going to do to the best of my abilities. I'm ready to work too. I'm ready to give it my all.

“I need to work on getting stronger. That's going to come eventually. Shooting, working on shooting a little more. What translates? Blocking shots, pushing the ball in transition, being a good teammate.”

Rather than attend college, Buzelis spent last season playing against older competition for G-League Ignite, a team based in Las Vegas that played against other G-League squads. He averaged 11.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and shot 22% from 3-point range last season.

Buzelis was asked to explain why he chose the G-League over college.

Matas Buzelis hugs family and friends after being selected by the Chicago Bulls as the 11th pick during the first round of the NBA basketball draft, Wednesday, June 26, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson) AP

“Playing against the best players in the world, getting trained by the best coaches in the world and having some vets that have been on NBA rosters and know what it's like to go through the route we went on,” he said. “I think I gained an advantage being there.”

Buzelis has the Lithuanian name and several members of his family played for the Lithuania national team. But Buzelis was born in Chicago and spent most of his life in West suburban Willowbrook.

Buzelis played his freshman year at Hinsdale Central, but when his sophomore season was delayed by the pandemic, he decided to head to prep school, attending Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, then Sunrise Academy in Kansas. Younger brother Vincas is heading into his senior year at Hinsdale Central.

Buzelis didn't take to basketball right away as a kid and spent a couple years as a competitive swimmer. He returned to basketball after his parents attended the graduation party of former Barrington High School star Rapolas Ivanauskas and met skills trainer Steve Pratt. Based on that meeting, Buzelis joined Pratt's Northbrook-based Full Package travel team and the rest is history.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.