Presenting Michigan Basketball's Latest Villain, Ignas Brazdeikis

He wouldn't be so intolerable if he wasn't so good.

Will Burchfield
March 22, 2019 - 9:16 pm

© Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

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Des Moines, Iowa -- Glancing across the locker room in the direction of Ignas Brazdeikis, who was stretched out in his stall, hands clasped behind his head as he entertained reporter after reporter, Michigan assistant coach DeAndre Haynes tried to come up with an answer. If Zavier Simpson is a pitbull, Iggy is a... 

Haynes mulled it over some more, then snarled and said, "He a Rottweiler. That's what he is. He's a little bigger, but both of them are really tough, man. They just got that tough mentality. If you compare them to any specimen of a dog, they got it inside of them."

Nodding toward Brazdeikis, Haynes said, "He got the Conor McGregor." Then he shifted his gaze toward Simpson, nestled in a corner locker. "He got the Floyd Mayweather."

Both got bite, both got snarl. Both got game. But only one of them gets booed by opposing fans wherever he goes, the same one who consistently draws the ire of the players on the other team. 

When Michigan played at Maryland this season, it was Brazdeikis who was serenaded in chants of "You Are Ug-ly!" at the free throw line. Like a certain No. 13 for Michigan last year, Brazdeikis is public enemy No. 1. 

"They hate him probably because he’s a good basketball player," said Simpson. "He puts us in position to win." 

Well there's that, sure. No one's going to waste their anger on a bench player. But Brazdeikis knows darn well there's more to it. 

"Honestly, I can't blame them for hating me," he smiled. "It's my personality." 

Maybe Charles Matthews can help us understand. He was gathering chips of ice from a cooler next to his locker and lobbing them at Brazdeikis as the big, brazen freshman answered questions in the spotlight of several television cameras on Friday afternoon, as Michigan prepares to face Florida Saturday. 

Eventually Matthews hit his mark, and Brazdeikis whirled his head in the culprit's direction. Matthews, giggling, swore he wasn't to blame. He insisted he was only aiming for Haynes, in completely the other direction. 

There's something about Brazdeikis that makes him an easy target. 

"He’s just got this little swag to himself," Matthews said. "A lot of people call it arrogance, but he’s got an overdose of confidence, or else he wouldn’t be the great player he is. But he is definitely a villain among other teams and opponents."

You know the Brazdeikis moves by now. The cash-money signs after a three. The biceps after a dunk. The strut after an and-1. The grin any time there's a skirmish, and there's not a skirmish he'll miss. 

Throw in that stylish blond hair, shaved on the sides but flowing up top, and, man, he's just the worst. 

"I would hate him, too," said Haynes. "He’s cocky. The money sign, the Conor McGregor walk. You just want to go dunk on him one time to shut him up. But that’s still not going to shut him up. The whole crowd at Indiana was booing him and he was just like, 'Bring it on.' And he just takes it on, man. He loves it. He lives up to this stuff." 

In the NCAA Tournament for the first time, where the intensity is higher and the emotions are hotter, Brazdeikis is right at home. This is the stage he was born for. It only helps that Michigan is considered a favorite, which makes them easy to root against. 

That other No. 13 resisted the villain role, until he decided he might as well with it. Brazdeikis has embraced it all along. 

"100 percent," he said. "I love coming into hostile environments and just shutting crowds down or getting into it with other players or other crowds. I feel like I'm mature enough not to let it affect my game. That’s where I use it as a strength for me, and I feel like it works." 

Brazdeikis is a precocious freshman indeed. Of course, not many freshmen are 20 years old. In his seven years of coaching, Haynes said he's never come across a first-year player as mature as the one that leads this Michigan team in scoring.

But then, not many 20-year-olds are 6'7, 215 lbs. and chiseled from head to toe. The other day in practice, said Haynes, Brazdeikis pulled off the kind of high-wire play that left a teammate saying, "Man, that dude is a pro."

"You'll see him do some things, and you're like, 'How in the world did you just do that?'" Haynes said. 

In Haynes' mind, the freshman isn't really a freshman. 

"He's a grown man. So he's just got a different approach to the game. He loves when the crowd's against him. He always says, 'Man, if they ain't talking about you then something's wrong. He feeds off it, and that's the difference for him," said Haynes. 

The longer Michigan lasts in the Tournament, the larger Brazdeikis' villain character will grow. He wouldn't be so intolerable if he wasn't so darn good. 

"You hate me, love me, at the end of the day it’s the same thing to me," he said. "They gotta respect me."