Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
From the outside, it seemed like Paulius Zalys‘ college recruiting was only just beginning.
As it turns out, the only collegiate offer he’d received was the only one he needed.
The Perkiomen School (Pa.) rising senior became the first member of Lafayette College’s incoming 2015 recruiting class on Saturday, verbally committing to head coach Fran O’Hanlon and the Leopards.
“I was thinking about it since the day they offered me,” he said. “I thought it was a good fit for me basketball-wise since some good seniors are leaving, so it would be good timing, and it’s just a great academic setting, so it was a no-brainer for me.”
Zalys’ decision came before he’d even gotten the chance to get exposure in front of many Division I schools. Because he hadn’t then yet finished his first high school season in the United States, Zalys wasn’t allowed to play in the only April live period event out in Pittsburgh.
But the Leopards extended an offer to him a few days after that event ended anyways, and he decided to end his recruitment less than a month later.
The key connection came from former Leopard and fellow Lithuanian native Deirunas Visockas, who graduated from Lafayette in 2011 after an injury-plagued career. Like Zalys, Visocakas is a native of Kaunas, Lithuania; Zalys actually played for Visockas’ father–Olympic bronze medalist Arunas Visockas, a power forward who helped Lithuania into the medals during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics–during his sophomore year of high school at the Sabonis Basketball Acdemy.
“(Deirunas) contacted me back in Lithuania during the season,” Zalys said. “He knew I had talked about going overseas and playing, so he just helped me out and helped me here also, get my name out and stuff.”
Because of his connection to Deirunas, Zalys was already interested in the Lafayette program. A visit to the school during the season only cemented those feelings, and after that the school began recruiting him.
Zalys cited the school’s academic reputation, its campus and its coaching staff all as reasons for his decision. The 6-foot-7, 200-pound combo forward sees himself as a perfect fit in Lafayette’s motion offense that requires good shooters all over the court.
“Everybody moves really unselfish and they think I can fit in perfectly because I can play multiple positions,” Zalys said. “I had a chance to watch a couple of their games during the season, they actually invited me to one of their games to watch them live, so I’ve probably seen like three or four games throughout the year.”
He’s the first commitment for what should be a big 2015 class for O’Hanlon and his staff, as the Leopards will need to replace four graduating seniors after this upcoming season. Do-everything wing Seth Hinrichs will be the biggest loss, as are fellow starters Dan Trist and Joey Ptasinski; role forward Alan Flannigan is also entering his final year of eligibility.
But that doesn’t mean that Zalys will be entering a team with a bare cupboard. He’ll have a very experienced backcourt of current rising junior Bryce Scott (11.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg) and sophomore Nick Lindner (10.9 ppg, 4.0 apg), who are going to be one of the top guard duos in the Patriot League for the next two seasons.
Having an experienced point guard like Lindner, a Germantown Academy grad and day one starter at Lafayette, is something that Zalys is really looking forward to.
“I met him during the visit and I heard a lot of good things about him, my school actually played him the year before I came there,” he said. “So I heard a lot of good things about him–really hard working, great point guard.”
Zalys also becomes the second member of the Jersey Shore Warriors AAU program to commit to Lafayette in as many years. Pitman (N.J.) wing Eric Stafford, a 6-5 shooting guard, will begin his collegiate career there in just a few weeks; he’s one of two incoming freshmen along with Eastern (N.J.) forward Matt Klinewski.