From NAIA to the Big Time: Guard Larry Motuzis finds his niche at AU
How a growth spurt and hard work led the Lithuanian guard to Division I basketball
How does a kid from Chicago, who wasn’t recruited by any of the Division I college basketball teams in the area and played NAIA Division II basketball, end up playing a pivotal role in his team’s quest for an NCAA Tournament bid at American University?
From a spectator’s perspective, Laurynas “Larry” Motuzis, a 6-foot-6-inch 205-pound senior, seems to fit right in at the Division I level, specifically with his elite size at the shooting guard position and athletic moves to the rim, along with his prowess as a slasher.
But for the Lithuania-born, Chicago-bred hoops star, his road to success has not always been so obvious. Motuzis’ journey, from going un-recruited to contributing significant minutes for the Eagles, is a story fit for a movie.
Shortly after his arrival in the United States at 8 years old, Motuzis discovered the game of basketball.
“One day my mom took me to the gym to play basketball,” Motuzis said. “From the moment I got on the court, I fell in love with it.”
From that point on, Motuzis dedicated himself to improving his game, practicing frequently and playing on a team outside of school, from the time he was in third grade until he graduated high school.
Motuzis, who said he always had a strong work ethic, realized that fulfilling his dreams of playing basketball at a Division I program might be slim. He was a 6-foot-1-inch guard at Hinsdale South High School in suburban Chicago at the time.
“In high school I was pretty little, and didn’t get recruited by many schools, even my senior year.” Motuzis said.
Due to the lack of interest from recruiters, Motuzis decided to take matters into his own hands.
“Saint Xavier was about 30 minutes from me, and I wasn’t getting many offers from schools so I decided to go over and take a shot there,” he said.
After an open gym at Saint Xavier University, the NAIA Division II school offered Motuzis a partial scholarship, which he accepted.
Any collegiate player who is offered just a partial scholarship is not generally expected to have a meaningful impact. But Motuzis proved his doubters wrong.
Standing at a more physical 6-foot-3-inches and weighing 180 pounds at the time, Motuzis ended up averaging 11.3 points per game for Saint Xavier, not only earning a spot in the starting lineup, but also earning a full scholarship for the Cougars.
The period between his freshman and sophomore seasons made the difference for Motuzis. Over the summer of 2015, Motuzis shockingly sprouted up three inches, a growth spurt that completely changed his game and mindset.
“That physical growth is probably one of the bigger things,” Motuzis said. “That was probably the moment where I was like, ‘it’s possible for me to play at the next level,’ being a guard at 6-foot-6, being able to shoot.”
Motuzis went on to average 20.7 points per game during his sophomore season while earning NAIA Division II Third Team All-American honors. At that point, he knew it was time to transfer to a school that provided a higher level of basketball competition.
Although schools like Loyola-Chicago, NJIT, Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois, and Toledo showed interest in him, Motuzis decided to take his first visit to American after a phone call from Eagles’ assistant coach Scott Greenman.
“I fell in love with the place, the coaching staff, all of it,” Motuzis said.
During that official visit, Motuzis committed to play at AU. Confident in his abilities, Motuzis came to American looking to improve his game and help the team in any way he could. Understanding that the players were more physical and athletic at the Division I level, Motuzis decided to hit the gym so that he would have the physical tools to make a meaningful contribution.
During his redshirt season in the District, Motuzis could often be found in the weight room – even on game days. He said he was lifting three to four times each week.
Coming into his redshirt junior season with 15 extra pounds of muscle from his work with weights, Motuzis knew he was ready for game action. In his first NCAA Division I game, Motuzis dropped 17 points on 7-14 shooting against a Kansas State team that made it to the Elite Eight. Motuzis would go on to average 14.6 points per game in his first year with the Eagles, while finishing fourth in the Patriot League in steals, with 1.6 per game.
Although Motuzis is confident in his game, he felt that his statistics last season were inflated due to injuries, youth and the team’s need for a steady scoring presence.
“Last year, at that time, we needed scoring,” Motuzis said. “We didn’t have [Mark] Gasperini, and Sam [Iorio] was still a freshman. That was part of the reason I had some of these big games.”
Coming into this season, Motuzis had high hopes for his squad. But with the additions of Josh Alexander, Jacob Boonyasith, Mark Gasperini and Yilret Yiljep – plus the maturation of the rest of the team – Motuzis understood that he might have fewer scoring opportunities this year.
While he is averaging 7.5 points per game this season, his offensive efficiency has improved, and he is satisfied that the team is winning more games.
“At the end of the day, it’s about winning games, and if we win games I think everybody looks good. So, I don’t get too concerned about my points. I’m just trying to help this team win,” said Motuzis.
And the Eagles are winning. After a disappointing 6-24 season last year, American is one of the most improved teams in the country, posting a 12-9 (6-4 PL) record thus far with notable wins against Bucknell, George Mason and UMBC.
“Defense for us has been big, and having Mark [Gasperini] back has been big,” said Motuzis.
The sharpshooter also feels that due to improved defense and depth, the Eagles have been able to pay more attention to detail – which is something the squad couldn’t afford to do last season, as they were just trying to find ways to stay in games.
Just having a winning record doesn’t do it for Motuzis.
“From the beginning of the season, we talked amongst each other, and our goal was to be the best we can by the time the conference tournament starts … win the conference tournament, and make it to the NCAA Tournament,” he said.
It would only be fitting if Motuzis accomplishes what he set out to do when he arrived at American in 2016 – lead his team to an NCAA Tournament appearance.