Home Sports An emphatic slam. A 3-point play. Austin Kulig steps up for Andrew. ‘I am going to dunk on somebody if the moment is there.’

An emphatic slam. A 3-point play. Austin Kulig steps up for Andrew. ‘I am going to dunk on somebody if the moment is there.’

by staff

Senior forward Austin Kulig saw the opportunity and took it Friday night for Andrew.

It’s just what he does.

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While he enjoys the expressive qualities of playing basketball — and through it all, always has — he also loves showing what he is finally capable of doing in the air.

“When I am out on the court, I would not say I am the point guard or I do anything fancy or flashy,” Kulig said. “I do have bounce. I am pretty athletic.

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“And I am going to dunk on somebody if the moment is there.”

That moment came late in the third quarter on an emphatic putback tip dunk, lifting the Thunderbolts to a 51-37 win over Lockport in a SouthWest Suburban Conference crossover.

Kulig’s highlight-reel dunk resulted in a 3-point play and ignited an 11-3 burst that broke the game open for Andrew (4-3). The symbolic importance was equally significant.

The sequence crystallized an evolving comfort, versatility and expanded role for the 6-foot-7 Kulig, who finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Junior guard Jalen Falcon scored 19 points to lead Lockport (5-3).

Kulig demonstrated the ability to shoot from the perimeter and use his size to get to the basket.

“Last season was my first official year of really starting and playing,” he said. “Even then, I was just a role player.”

His early career was marked by bad luck, injuries and the developmental restrictions created by the pandemic.

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“I had a broken arm in eighth grade,” he said. “I was out for eight months prior to the season my freshman year.”

Lockport's Jalen Falcon, right, guards Andrew's Athan Berchos during a SouthWest Suburban Conference crossover on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022.

Kulig credits his improvement to joining the Chicago-based Mac Irvin Fire travel program and the playing in the Nike-sponsored Elite Youth Basketball League circuit.

“I got a lot better over the summer,” he said.

Kulig also formed an imposing interior wall Friday with junior Grantas Sakenis.

A 6-8, 240-pound center in his first year on the varsity, Sakenis had seven points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots.

His size and rim protection deterred the Porters from attacking the basket, limiting Lockport to just five made field goals in the second half.

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Dynamic and athletic, however, Falcon showed a deft touch by nailing three 3-pointers in the first quarter for the Porters.

Andrew's Josh Knott (11) strips the ball from Lockport's Quinton Hunter (5) during a SouthWest Suburban Conference crossover on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022.

“I start off every game by trying to make my threes,” Falcon said. “As soon as I do that, teams are going to want to come out and guard against that shot.

“My game is built off my first dribble, so if I can hit threes and also drive, it’s very hard for teams to guard me.”

Sakenis made it hard on Lockport from there. He’s moving out of the shadow of his older brother Arnas, a 6-11 center who’s now a freshman at SIU Edwardsville.

“I practiced with the varsity last season,” Grantas said. “It was definitely a challenge going up against my brother.”

But he’s a quick study.

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“I’m trying to follow in his steps,” Sakenis said. “The coaches are pushing me to play the way he did and be a shot blocker.

Andrew's Grantas Sakenis (42) looks to pass under the basket away from Lockport's Adam Labuda, left, and Evan Dziadkowiec during a SouthWest Suburban Conference crossover on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022.
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“I am just being patient, working hard every day and learning how to use my size.”

The learning curve for Kulig has been boosted by his athleticism and competitive flair. He played volleyball when he was younger.

Last spring, he also took up the high jump for the first time and achieved a personal-best 6-3.

With a basketball offer from Lewis, Kulig is looking to expand that number with continued strong play.

“This season, I feel like I am becoming a lot more comfortable,” Kulig said. “When the season first started, I felt like I had the jitters and wasn’t playing that well.

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“I have gotten better and better with each game.”

Patrick Z. McGavin is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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