A Second September Visitor

September is the biggest official visit month of the basketball recruiting calendar, and all Cardinal eyes are currently focused on the September 23 weekend when Spencer Hawes will descend upon The Farm. While the #3 recruit in America wraps up his 48 hours, another 2006 recruit will play a football game and then fly across the country to take his Stanford official visit...

Of the various prospects for Stanford in the 2006 class upon which we have written, there is one intriguing young man who has had complete silence on the recruiting radar since the beginning of the summer.  Anyone and everyone gets seen in July these days, with recruits sure to make themselves visible to college coaches during the most important evaluation period of the year.  But for Tomas Balcetis, there was a more pressing focus for him this summer.  The Holderness School senior left the United States on July 9 to return to his home in Vilnius, Lithuania.

"Tomas feels like this is his last summer opportunity to spend time with his mother," explains Jamie Gallagher, Balcetis' high school coach last year.  "He saw how his friends and teammates who graduated this spring enrolled right away in summer school and played basketball - Martynas [Pocius] at Duke and his point guard [Greg Johnson] at Hofstra."

In making that decision, Balcetis opted against playing any AAU tournaments this summer - a mortal sin in today's college basketball recruiting environ.  But the Lithuanian is prone to going against the grain.  One of the few things he did in June before heading home overseas was to stick around his school a couple weeks after students departed.   An annual must-attend event for Holderness students sends them packing for a multi-day road trip party as soon as the final cap is tossed into the air at graduation.  Balcetis, who hails from a blue-collar family, instead stayed behind to help faculty move and earn a few needed shekels for his pocket.

Skipping out on the July savory slate of AAU tournaments is a bigger stumper, until you recognize the unusual focus of this student-athlete.  Balcetis saw little need to put himself on display when he already had the attention of the only suitors he desired.

"His recruitment has basically come down to Columbia, Yale, Penn, Princeton and Stanford," Gallagher shares.  "Other schools have tried to get involved.  DePaul, for example, was asking how they could get in.  But other places just don't have the academics that Tomas wants."

"That makes it easier on me," the former Holderness coach laughs.  "Tomas has had a clear understanding all along of what he wants to do."

Balcetis finished the 2004-05 academic year, his first in the U.S., ranked #2 in his junior class at the Holderness School.  He should have been browbeaten by culture shock and social adjustments in his first 12 months on American soil, but instead he blossomed and gripped the Holderness students and faculty alike with his character, scholarship and activities.  For his all-around contributions, Balcetis was awarded the esteemed Harvard Book Prize at the end of the school year.  He also scored an 1850 on the new SAT, though reportedly miffed that he did not crack 2000.

"I don't know how Stanford will interpret Tomas' transcript and background," Gallagher comments.  "But I know that Yale will take him right now.  Penn would take him right now."

The coach and student already started exploring schools at the end of the spring when they took a pair of trips to visit Columbia and Yale.  More could come this fall, with Balcetis due to return to the New Hampshire campus within the next few days.  But the biggest date circled on the 6'5" Lithuanian wing's calendar will bring him to Stanford for an official visit September 25-26.  (Note, that is a slightly unusual Sunday-Monday official visit, but Balcetis has football games every Saturday this fall, including the season opener on the 24th.)

"I'm assuming that [Stanford] Admissions must like him to set up a visit," Gallagher offers.  "I know Tomas has his application all completed and sent in."

Another sure sign that Stanford is serious about Balcetis will be found this month, when Trent Johnson travels to New Hampshire to visit the senior sharpshooter at his school.

The last Cardinal coach to see the Lithuanian was assistant coach Tony Fuller, who was in attendance for the one opportunity in early July to watch Balcetis before he left the continent.  The 2006 wing participated in the Eastern Invitational camp at the College of New Jersey the first week of the evaluation period, amongst a sea of 700 ball-hungry players.

"Tomas quickly found out what it is like to play with selfish kids," Gallagher relates.  "He didn't get many touches to shoot the ball, which is his strength, but he didn't let that defeat him.  He just decided to play harder - rebound and defend."

Balcetis showed an admirable blue-collar toughness that week, which is a side you rarely hear about.  First and foremost, Tomas Balcetis a shooter.  His stroke is as pure as anybody Stanford has recruited in the last decade, and the current Cardinal roster would very much welcome that skill level.  Stanford fans are anxious for a dead-eye sharpshooter dressed in the home colors at Maples Pavilion, after seeing the Cardinal drop in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years last March, with just 22% shooting from three-point range (4-of-18) against Mississippi State.

Quietly, Balcetis' story has become one of the most compelling in today's Stanford Basketball recruiting.  With a strong academic profile, commensurate interest in the Cardinal and a knockout long-range jump shot, the lethal Lithuanian may become the next piece to the National Championship puzzle being assembled by Trent Johnson on The Farm.

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