Lithuanian big man commits To NKU

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7-Footer from IMG Academy has international Roots

Arguably the most common knock on mid-major college basketball programs today is – as a general conglomerate – their collective inability to recruit and sign players who have size and can play the game at the highest levels.

Sure, programs can recruit and sign size for sake of signing size, but these players often come with the tag of “big…but can’t play the game.” And sure, programs can recruit and sign players that can play the game, but this crop often come with the tag of “Yeah, he can play…but he’s too small for his position, he’s already hit his ceiling.”

With any luck, Northern Kentucky is hoping they just signed an athlete who fits both bills. This week, the Norse secured a commitment from Lithuanian big man Paulius Rapolis (7-0, 230 lbs.), who most recently played his prep ball at the famed IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The same IMG Academy that won the 2019 High School National Championship, has developed 13 McDonald’s All-Americans and 19 NBA draftees.

This past season for IMG Academy, Rapolis averaged 11 points per game and shot 60% from the field and 70% from the charity stripe. The 7-footer is fresh off of representing IMG Academy on the IMG Post-Grad National Team at the Phenom Prep and Post-Grad Nationals in Rock Hill, SC in late March, where he was specifically listed as a “player to watch.” Scouts for Phenom Hoops Report noted of the post player, “(Rapolis is) from Lithuania, a player that provides size for sure, (he) can be a presence down around the basket and brings good energy. Eager to learn more about his game.”

Rapolis not only brings sheer size and length to the 2024-25 Norse squad, he also brings a dearth of high-level international experience to the table. In addition to his development and exposure at IMG, Rapolis will come to Highland Heights following stints on the Lithuanian U17 FIBA National Team, an experience that allowed him to play in the FIBA Basketball World Cup, which was hosted in Spain in 2022.

He also was a key player in the 2023 Youth Basketball Champions League competition in Bursa, Turkey, where he helped lead his BC Rytas (Lithuania) squad to an impressive Group showing over some of Europe’s best youth basketball clubs. In one pivotal game, against German side Porsche BBA Ludwigsburg, he came off the bench to haul in 12 rebounds, 6 of them from the offensive glass en route to a crucial 65-56 win. In his squad’s six games in Turkey, Rapolis averaged 4.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2 assist and 1.3 blocks per game.

During the 2022 U18 Lithuanian League regular season for club Sostines KM 1, he started a majority of the contests and logged 9.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and one block per game while shooting 59% from the field. In one standout performance, he scored 24 points and hauled down 14 boards while shooting 10-of-12 from the field.

Scouting service On3 Elite has Rapolis listed as a 3-star prospect, the No. 20 rated prep player overall in the state of Florida and the No. 26 rated center in the country. With rare size and extensive international experience overseas, the hope is that Rapolis has a sturdy foundation from which to work, and that he will be in a position to jockey for playing time his first season on campus.

The Horizon League doesn’t see many athletes of this size and pedigree, and a player like this – if developed properly – could pose nightmares for opponents while patrolling the paint. Teaming him up with uber-athletic post Keeyan Itejere, who just had a nice season himself after seeing very little playing time a year ago at Marquette, could give the Norse a true pair of towers they haven’t seen in Truist Arena in recent memory.

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