|Mindaugas Katelynas signs a contract with the University of Tennessee Chattanooga Wednesday afternoon. The contract allows Katelynas to compete at the NCAA school while continuing his education under a full scholarship. Katelynas grew up in Lithuania and moved to the United States last year to play basketball for the College of Eastern Utah.|
The College of Eastern Utah men's and women's basketball teams prepare to kick off the preseason at home this weekend. The men will compete in two games beginning at 7:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday evening at the BDAC.
The women's team will compete for the first time this season at home Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m.
As the basketball season begins to heat up, so does the players who look forward to competing for the Eagles this season. Among those who will play for CEU this year is second year Eagle Mindaugas Katelynas.
Last season, Katelynas made his debute on an American basketball court as he took to the hoop for the Golden Eagles.
Katelynas was born and raised in Lithuania and had always dreamed of playing basketball.
"In my country, basketball is like a religion. Kids grow up learning to play ball so that they can make a living competing. Although basketball is popular in Lithuania, the level of competition isn't as strong as here in the U.S.," explained Katelynas.
By the time that Katelynas had entered the third grade, he knew he wanted to play basketball. Therefore, he began practicing and competing.
"I was probably about eight when I decided to give it a break. This was the time when I really started to grow. Everybody told me that I had to come back and start playing. So I did and I have ever since," a dedicated Katelynas explained.
Because Katelynas was determined to compete in the sport which he loves, he decided to learn the English language in hopes that one day he may be able to compete in America.
"I started learning English when I was pretty young. When I came here last year, I had a difficult time speaking the language because I really never had spoke it before. This year it is a lot easier," laughed the six foot nine athlete.
After completing high school, Katelynas began his search for a college that would offer him the chance to compete for their basketball team. That is when the CEU jumped into the picture.
"I was excited to compete and the Eagles offered me the chance to follow my dream. I have really grown as a player here."
Last season, Katelynas stepped up in his first college season to post 81 total rebounds, 13 blocks, 12 steals while averaging 55 percent from the field.
Because Katelynas had such an exceptional first season in the college ranks, universities across the country noticed the talented athlete and recruitment began.
Universities from Washington, Missouri and Tennessee all contacted Katelynas and offered him basketball contracts during the off season. Katelynas weighed his options and decided to accept an offer from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga.
"I went and visited the campus a few times and I liked it. It was really green and it reminded me of home. They have a great basketball program and their coach is well known," explained Katelynas after signing his contract and scholarship with the university.
Tennessee coach Jeff Lebo brings quite a bit to the table for the men's basketball team. Lebo was the 1985 national high school player of the year and then he moved on to compete for North Carolina in college and finally, he competed in the NBA for the San Antonio Spurs.
Lebo came into the Chattanooga program after coaching for four years at Tennessee Tech and he is expected to be a candidate for coach of the year this season.
"I look forward to playing for Lebo. I will be able to learn a lot from him and hopefully improve my game enough to move on to the NBA," explained Katelynas.
Although basketball is his passion, Katelynas also had dedicated himself to education.
"I'm majoring in computers and I work hard to keep my grades up. That's most important. I want to have something after basketball that I can do."
Eagles assistant coach Brady Trenkle explained that the contract that Katelynas signed with the university is also a full tuition scholarship.
"Only about one percent of the NCAA basketball athletes receive this type of scholarship," explained Trenkle.
"I'm excited to be following my dream, but I miss my home and my family. I know that they are proud and happy for me, but I miss them and think about them everyday."
Before Katelynas moves on to compete in the NCAA, he will complete his final season with the Golden Eagles. So far, he has kicked the preseason off just like how he ended last season. Successfully.
With only three games behind them this year, Katelynas averages 15 rebounds, three blocks and 14 points per game.
"He is doing a great job for us again this year. I'm sure he will keep it up throughout the season," stated Eagles head coach Bryan Zollinger.
Although Katelynas is the only Eagle athlete to sign an early NCAA contract this year, it is expected that several of the teams players will have signed with a school by the end of the season.
"We have a lot of talent on this team this year and we expect good things to come out of it. I'm sure several of these guys will move on in their basketball careers," explained Trenkle.
The basketball season has kicked off on a positive note not only for Katelynas, but for the rest of the talented Eagles team. With three games played so far, the Eagles have successfully claimed the victory to each of these games.
As the Eagles prepare for the season, the intensity rises and the basketball action is sure to be hot this year for CEU as the action begins this weekend.