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Lagrange Park-Boys basketball game: Nazareth vs. Iliana Christian. Tim Kuckailis Nazareth drives to the hoop. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media.
Like lots of other high school basketball players, Tim Kuckailis grew up loving the NBA.
“I was a fan of basketball since I was 5 years old,” Kuckailis said. “I watched as many NBA games as possible. My favorite NBA teams were the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs.”
The difference between Kuckailis and other kids who admire Tim Duncan is that the 6-foot-7, 235-pound Nazareth forward was watching the games on the other side of the world. Kuckailis was born and raised in Lithuania before moving to the United States at the beginning of the school year.
“I always wanted to study here and play college basketball in the United States,” Kuckailis said. “That’s my dream since I was a little kid. I came to (Nazareth) and showed them what I could do and they wanted me on the team.”
The transition has been seamless. Kuckailis walked into the La Grange Park school and was welcomed with open arms by players who knew he was competing for a starting job.
“All the teammates are awesome people and they welcomed me warmly and in a very kind way,” Kuckailis said. “Of course in the open gyms everyone wants to show they have a spot in the starting five. On the court you fight for a spot but there were no problems.”
The senior is always one of the bigger guys on the court, but looks can be deceiving. He has the ability to run the court and possesses some nifty moves around the basket. He thinks a lot of that has to do with how European players are raised.
“I noticed that the coaches here concentrate on players’ physique and they want players to run more and be stronger and attack the rim,” Kuckailis said. “But in Europe, until (you’re) 15 or 16, all coaches do is work on fundamentals, skill drills, dribbling, shooting.
“That’s always been my game. I love to be in the high post position. I like to be facing the basket. The up-and-down game has always been my thing.”
Nazareth (10-9) dropped a tough 75-70 decision to East Suburban rival St. Patrick on Friday night before bouncing back with a 76-72 nonconference win over Peoria Notre Dame on Saturday.
“Coming into this season, it’s gone quite well,” Kuckailis said. “We had a little slow start and had some tough games. But we managed to get a home win on Saturday and we have four or five straight home games. (We) feel like we’re going to go on a winning run.~.