Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Gilvydas Biruta has never played in the NCAA Tournament, but he feels he approximated the experience this summer.
Biruta played for Lithuania in the European U20 Championship in Bilbao, Spain in July, averaging 5.1 points and 2.7 rebounds.
“Every game is so important, It’s like NCAA Championship here,” the 6-foot-8, 248-pound Biruta said last week at Rutgers. “You lose a game, you’re losing chances to go further. You go for preparation for two months, you lose two or three games and that’s it, your summer is done. Every game is like your last game.”
Lithuania beat Italy, Spain and the U.S. during events leading up to the European Championships, but then fell apart, losing four straight in the tournament. They finished 4-5 overall.
“We were so good and once the tournament started I don’t know what happened,” Biruta said.
Still, Biruta said the experience motivated him to come back even stronger during his sophomore year at Rutgers. He was named to the Big East All-Rookie Team last year after averaging 9.5 points and 5.4 rebounds.
“It motivated me to work harder,” he said. “I was missing Rutgers so much. I know the system in here, the formula. Everybody knows what we’re doing. And I just couldn’t wait to get back.”
A year ago, Biruta was one of just nine active scholarship players under first-year coach Mike Rice.
This year’s team has the full complement of 13, including frontcourt players Biruta, fellow sophomore Austin Johnson and freshmen big men Kadeem Jack, Derrick Randall and Greg Lewis.
In Biruta, Rice sees a big man who can also step out and play on the wing a little bit.
“I see a more comfortable perimeter player, to be honest with you,” Rice said. “You can’t forget about the way he was successful last year scoring in the paint.
“But I see somebody who has a little bit more of a poise on the perimeter. I don’t know if he’s going to fit exactly in J-Mitch [Jonathan Mitchell’s] shoes because he’s still different, but I think it will help us because I think one of our strengths is our depth at the frontcourt position.
“So him being able to play a little bit more on the perimeter helps.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.