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Top NBA draft prospect, Chicago native Matas Buzelis reacts to potentially being drafted by the Bulls

Buzelis said playing in his hometown would be a 'dope experience'

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Chicago native and G-League Ignite star, Matas Buzelis, grew up in the suburbs as an avid swimmer. And his family isn't short of athletic genes; or, basketball genes.

Both his parents played basketball in Lithuania. His mother played for youth Lithuanian national teams. His dad played for multiple clubs in the Lithuanian Basketball League. Buzelis' grandparents both grew up basketball players and his grandmother was a professional handball player and the winner of two European Champions Cups.

His family tree oozes elite, athletic genes. But Buzelis never thought he would be on the brink of becoming a pro.

"I didn't really think I was gonna be a professional athlete until my freshman year of high school," Buzelis told NBC Sports Chicago in an exclusive interview. "I was always a swimmer and a video game player. I didn't think I was gonna be a professional athlete."

FULL INTERVIEW: Matas Buzelis Q&A: Growing up in Chicago, playing in the G-League, transitioning to the NBA

Now, he's on the brink of not only becoming an NBA player but one of the top picks in the 2024 NBA Draft.

Buzelis, 19, is a star prospect on the G-League's Ignite team. In 26 games with the Ignite this season, Buzelis is averaging 14.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. He's shooting 44.5% from the field and 27.3% from beyond the arc. Buzelis is also posting 2.1 blocks and 0.9 steals per game, flexing his versatility on the defensive side of the floor, too.

He transferred to two different boarding schools after attending Hinsdale Central High School in the Chicago suburbs for one year. By the end of high school, Buzelis earned Gatorade Player of the Year, McDonald's All-American, and was selected to play in the Jordan Brand Classic and the Nike Hoops Summit. From there, he decided to play for the G-League Ignite team, opting against playing in college.

The NBA announced last week the G-League Ignite team will be discontinued past the 2024 NBA season. The team was initially crafted to give high school NBA prospects an avenue to abide by the league's rules of playing for one year before entering the league.

It was crafted as a way for young players to make money and avoid having to play collegiate or overseas basketball before entering the draft. But with NIL (name, image and likeness) on the rise, the G-League Ignite team is losing its novelty.

“Four years ago, we started Ignite to fill a void in the basketball landscape, and I’m proud of the contributions we were able to make to that ecosystem,” said NBA G League President Shareef Abdur-Rahim in a statement. “With the changing environment across youth and collegiate basketball, now is the right time to take this step. I want to extend my sincere gratitude to general manager Anthony McClish, head coach Jason Hart and their staff and to each player who wore an Ignite jersey. As ever, the G League’s commitment to developing top NBA talent and helping players achieve their NBA dreams is unwavering.”

Still, Buzelis doesn't regret his choice to play for the Ignite.

"This was the best choice by far. I'd do it again if I could," Buzelis said. "We play against the best players. It's not like college. It's way more difficult. You get to play NBA rules like you're gonna play in the NBA. We have an advantage."

Buzelis will not be affected by the Ignite shutting down. He will enter for the 2024 NBA Draft, where's expected to be selected within the top-10 picks of the draft.

As it stands, the Bulls have the 11th-best odds in the NBA draft. Buzelis is expected to be in the top-ten range of the draft, close to the Bulls. How would he feel about playing for his hometown?

"I'd feel good about it. Hometown hero!" Buzelis said. "It'd be fun to play for Chicago. Just watching them when I was younger, watching Derrick Rose play. It'd be a dope experience. ... We would go to games often when the Grizzlies would play them because one of my dad's clients, who he works with, plays for the Grizzlies. We would go every time they play the Grizzlies."

What would the Bulls, or any team, be getting in Buzelis?

"I'd say they're getting a versatile player that's gonna come to work every day, even on bad days," Buzelis said. "They're gonna get a person who, whatever the coach tells him to do, he's gonna do it."

For more on Matas' journey, check out "The Break presented by The General."

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