Saturday , January 13, 2018 - 5:15 AM
Forward Donatas Kupsas takes a shot during warm-ups prior to a game. the Lithuanian player committed to Weber State over Hofstra and Fordham. He also garnered interest from Wake Forest.
The transition from high school to college can be difficult for young athletes who accept scholarships far away from home.
Donatas Kupsas knows that feeling well. The 6-foot-8 forward and Weber State basketball’s newest 2018 addition committed to WSU on Jan. 8. He’ll be a little more accustomed to being away from home when arrives in Ogden later this year.
After debate and uncertainty, Kupsas left his home country of Lithuania at 17 to attend high school and play basketball at Long Island Lutheran, a private school in Brookeville, New York.
“I had no idea if I was going to end up in America. I thought about it so much, but I had no idea what America was,” he said. “I had never been there and didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know any players, no high school, nothing.
“I kept talking to my parents about it and they were confused too, because it’s a big question mark to come to the United States without knowing anything.”
Kupsas was contacted by Deirunas Visockas, a fellow Lithuanian and former Lafayette guard who now works to help foreign players move to American high schools with hopes of landing athletic scholarships.
Still, living in a new country and handling an intense schedule of school and basketball was overwhelming. He nearly went home.
“It was hard with a different system and the basketball stuff got really hard. We would practice two hours like in college and have college-level practices,” Kupsas said. “The first three months were the hardest of my life. I was calling my parents and telling them that I wanted to go home to Lithuania.”
Kupsas’ parents provided encouragement, and not to lose sight of what he set out to do — play basketball at the next level.
He seems ready.
“I pushed through and after those three months, it go so much better, so easier,” he said. “I got into that rhythm of the all day, everyday routine. Play ball, study, sleep, eat and that’s it. That’s what it’s really about getting into college. You’ve got to do that. There’s no need for distractions.”
Then came the recruiting process, where a second home awaited.
Much to Kupsas’ surprise, college teams first began showing interest in him towards the end of his sophomore year.
Weber State didn’t come onto the scene until a year later during an AAU tournament, where Kupsas thinks it wasn’t his play that impressed, but his off-court demeanor.
“I didn't play that well,” Kupsas said. “Weber State saw me clapping on the bench, getting my teammates as much help as possible as I can from the bench. I wasn’t playing my game. I’m a person that wants to try to get the win. I’m not worried about myself.
“I kept playing, kept pushing through and later on Weber State called me and offered me.”
Kupsas had offers from solid mid-major programs like Iona, Richmond, Davidson, Vermont and UC Santa Barbara — but he narrowed his choices to Weber State, Hofstra and Fordham, and made official visits to the three schools.
Ogden was his first trip. The setting in the Wasatch Mountains, as well as the team, immediately grabbed his attention.
“I felt at home,” he said. “Lithuania is a nature place with forests, mountains — not like the big mountains in Utah — but we have that nature.
“Weber State was just like home, but more especially the coaches and the teammates. I bonded with the teammates from day one as I met them. It was an exciting experience on the official visit. I just fell in love with Weber State.”
He felt a bond with many of the Wildcats on his visit, but Kupsas had an immediate connection with Finnish freshman center Anton Vialen, who remembered watching Kupsas play from the bench against him in U16 national team play.
His visits to Hofstra and Fordham made the decision difficult, but that home-like feeling at Weber State won the decision.
When asked if he had anything to say to Wildcat fans, Kupsas’ response was simple.
“Be ready,” he said. “I’m coming.”
Contact sports reporter Brandon Garside at email@example.com, on Twitter @BrandonGarside and on Facebook.com/BrandonGarsideSE.