Get to know the Lithuanian freshman who is already making a statement at Arizona.
Though the nation won’t see Arizona in March Madness this year due to the program’s self-imposed postseason ban, the Wildcats are an exciting group behind their core of underclassmen.
Among the youngsters leading Arizona to an 11-3 start is Azuolas Tubelis, an international prospect who has quickly adapted to the D-I level.
Here are five things you need to know about Tubelis:
He was Thursday’s hero vs. Arizona State
The quickest way to be adored by your fanbase? Hitting a last-second shot to hand your in-state rival a home loss certainly works.
Following Remy Martin’s missed attempt at the rim, Arizona guard James Akinjo lofted up an awkward 3-pointer that wildly missed the mark but Tubelis was at the right place and right time to scoop in the airball to clinch the victory.
Though he hit the game-winning basket, Thursday coincidentally marked the end of Tubelis’ double-figure scoring streak. In the four games leading up to the ASU thriller, Tubelis averaged 17 points, 7.3 rebounds and shot 53.2 percent from the field in 28 minutes of action a night. Tubelis has appeared in the Wildcat starting five in each of the last eight games as he evolves into a focal part of the Arizona rotation.
His twin brother is a fellow Wildcat
Azuolas (“Ah-zjew-liss”) isn’t the only Tubelis (“Too-bellus”) on the Arizona roster. His twin brother, Tautvilas (“Tote-vee-lus”), committed to the Wildcats with Azuolas last May. They are the first Lithuanians in the Arizona program since Robertas Javtokas played 55 minutes during the 1999-2000 season.
Azuolas told ESPN last May about their American transition: “I believe that league fits me well and I also get a chance to play together with my brother. This is a great opportunity for him, which I think he deserves. The transition to the U.S. will be easier for me with my brother, so I am very excited to be able to play together with him once again.”
Tautvilas has appeared in five games this season, starting once, and is averaging 3.2 points and 1.8 rebounds in limited action.
He’s named after a type of tree
Azuolas isn’t a common Lithuanian name, though the meaning behind it certainly fits what he brings to the basketball court. Translated to oak in Lithuanian, the type of tree is “sacred in many religions and mythologies” and embodies strength and power.
“My grandfather wanted to give that name to me and everything happened like that,” Tubelis told Adidas NGT in 2019. “I like my name very much and I’m happy with that. I believe that fits well for me.”
His hometown is a D-I basketball factory
Tubelis’ hometown of Vilnius, Lithuania, continues to churn out D-I basketball players. A total of 27 Division-I players since 1999 arrived via Vilnius, including Texas A&M’s Antanas Kavaliauskas (11.9 points per game in ’07), Notre Dame’s Martin Geben (11.1 ppg in ’18) and TCU’s Edvinas Ruzgas (10.7 ppg in ’10), among others.
Vilnius, Lithuanin’s capital and the largest city in the country, has a population of just under 600,000 as of 2019. The city’s most iconic sports team is basketball club BC Rytas, which participates in both Eurocup and Euroleague and was the former home of eventual NBA pros in Jonas Valanciunas and Darius Songaila. Tubelis is a Rytas product as well, playing alongside former NCAA stars Tu Holloway and Cameron Bairstow before coming over to the United States.
He could be another one-and-done Arizona prospect
After losing seven of its top eight players this offseason and three more one-and-done 2020 draftees in Josh Green, Zeke Nnaji and Nico Mannion, Sean Miller and the Wildcats reloaded again with pro-level talent. Though Tubelis is still raw and continues to adapt to the American game, a strong second half of the season could propel the 6-11, 245-pounder to the next level.
His versatility as a multi-positional defender, firm frame and athleticism are all intriguing pro traits. As far as on-court production is concerned, Tubelis has already assumed a high usage, remains active on the glass (96th nationally in offensive rebounding rate), contests shots and gets to the foul line. Additionally, 15 of 54 field goals on the year are via putbacks, per Hoop-Math, and he has occasionally stepped out and hit perimeter shots, knocking down six of his 14 3-pointers.
Overall, Tubelis is a prospect worth watching given his physical stature and developing skill set. Becoming a more diverse and efficient offensive outlet will be pivotal in his career path.