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Bukauskas to start UNC career early

Right-handed pitcher JB Bukauskas (Ashburn, Va./Stone Bridge) will be a Tar Heel a year early.

Right-handed pitcher JB Bukauskas will reclassify and become a part of the 2014 class at North Carolina

Ranked as the No. 10 player in the 2015 class of rising high school juniors, Bukauskas is fast-tracking his academics so he can reclassify into the class of 2014. Instead of starting his junior year of high school this fall, he will make this year his final one at Stone Bridge and enroll at North Carolina for the fall semester in 2014.

The decision wasn’t an incredibly difficult one for Bukauskas, who committed to North Carolina almost exactly a year ago after an appearance at the Commonwealth Games in Virginia.

The opportunity to improve his game at the college level was enough to trump anything he could do in high school.

“I’ve already been to prom, I’ve done a lot in high school, so I don’t think I’ll be missing a lot,” Bukauskas told 247Sports. “We’re dropping down to a lesser district this year. It’s not going to do me a lot of good to be at the high school level another year when I can go and get better at North Carolina and further my career there. Getting better at North Carolina is going to benefit me more.”

The North Carolina coaching staff first had the conversation about graduating early with the Bukauskases at the time of his commitment. Assistant coach Scott Jackson tabled a committable scholarship offer after the Commonwealth Games, an invite-only event showcasing the top talent in the state of Virginia, the first week of July in 2012.

Bukauskas was scheduled to fly to Nashville, Tenn. to visit Vanderbilt the next day but he decided North Carolina was the place he wanted to go to school and canceled that visit.

The 6-foot, 170-pounder, who chose the Tar Heels over Virginia, Vanderbilt, Miami, Virginia Tech and others, began to buy into the idea of coming to school early last August. He set up an academic plan that would allow him to graduate a full year early and everything has come together within the last week.

“North Carolina didn’t want to pressure me. They told me it was my decision and whatever I wanted to do,” Bukauskas said. “You could tell everyone is happy with the decision and everyone is excited about it. This is what we wanted, this is what North Carolina wanted, so it’s a good thing it’s going to happen.”

With the plan to enroll early, Bukauskas will have to wait three years to play professional baseball. Ranked as the No. 10 high school prospect in the country, he was sure to garner a lot of attention from scouts and have the opportunity to earn a high dollar figure from a professional club.

The plan, however, was always for Bukauskas to attend school. Enrolling a year early means he will have fewer pitches on his arm and the opportunity to begin a professional career at a younger age with plenty of college classes already to his credit.

“I was always going to school,” Bukauskas said. “There were people saying things about being a high pick out of high school but I’m not sure if that has any validity. It’s always been our family’s decision to go to school. You need a backup plan.”

In addition to the academic side, Bukauskas will also have the opportunity to work with a coaching staff that led North Carolina to the national semi-finals this year of the College World Series.

Bukauskas talks with Jackson, his recruiter, every week or so and the two have formed a tight bond.

“We have a very strong relationship,” Bukauskas said. “Whenever I have a good outing, he’s the first one I want to talk to. Anytime I have something important to talk about, I talk about it with him.”

Jackson will turn the prized recruit over to pitching coach Scott Forbes to develop on the mound. Bukauskas sports a consistently 90-mph arm that has been clocked as high as 93 in a Perfect Game event.

“I know he has the best pitching staff in the country,” Bukauskas said of Forbes. “They’re known for great pitchers, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to go there.”

Bukauskas said a lot of the feedback he’s received from his peers and the baseball community has been negative as most think he should at least give himself the opportunity to be drafted before attending college. He’s just shrugged off the disapproving comments and is focused on where he wants to be in just over a year’s time.

“I’ve always wanted to wear that Carolina Blue,” Bukauskas said. “That stadium is perfect, it’s a great campus, great academics, great track record of getting guys to the pros. It’s close to my family so they can come watch me pitch. I just love everything about it.”

Bukauskas still has another year to wait though before putting on the North Carolina uniform for the first time. He still has one more year of high school classes, one more opportunity to go to the prom, and one more season with Stone Bridge head coach Sam Plank.

“I love playing high school baseball and we have a lot of great crowds out there,” Bukauskas said when asked about what he’ll miss most about high school. “I’ve known my high school coach since I was 7 years old, so it’s going to be a tough goodbye there.”

Plank has groomed his star pitcher, who was named first team All-Met and Northern Region Pitcher of the Year his sophomore season, for nearly 10 years now. He knows that Bukauskas will succeed both on and off the field in Chapel Hill.

Plank has done a lot for Bukauskas over the years and at the high school level but over the past couple of summers, Bukauskas has pitched on some big stages. Those opportunities were afforded to him by the EvoShield Canes, one of the top showcase programs on the national level.

“I want to thank the Canes for helping me get up to Perfect Game National a year early,” Bukauskas said. “The EvoShield Canes program has done a lot for me to help me get where I am right now. They’ve put me on a national stage and helped me every step of the way.”

EvoShield Canes general manager Jeff Petty, who has 39 players committed to Division I colleges in the 2014 class alone, believes that Bukauskas has the makeup to be successful at the college level even a year early.

Bukauskas, too, believes that he will be ready from a baseball standpoint. Still 16 years old, he gives a mature answer to if he’s ready to be a college student.

“I’m getting there,” Bukauskas said. “When we first brought the idea up, maturity was my biggest question I had. My academics, I think I can hang. In baseball, I think I can compete. I’ll be a 17-year old in college. I’m gradually getting there. I’m growing up and getting more mature as I go.”

Still a slight build for a college pitcher but certainly normal for his age, Bukauskas said he wants to put on about 15 pounds between now and the time he gets to school. He says it will be a tough goal to reach but he’s always set lofty goals.

“I’d like to think it’s that I throw hard,” Bukauskas said, when assessing his game. “I’d like to think the coaching staff thinks I’m a good all-around pitcher with good stuff and composure. My stuff can always improve, composure can always improve. Everything that goes along with being a good pitcher can always improve.”

Bukauskas will have the opportunity to improve at one of college baseball’s best programs a year early.

There are a lot of benefits and only one major drawback to starting school a year ahead of time. The fact that Bukauskas had already ruled out signing a professional contract out of high school made reclassifying and enrolling as a part of the 2014 class an easy one.

Regardless of what happens in the future, regardless of the negative feedback he’s received, Bukauskas is comfortable and confident in his decision.

“I’m not going to have any regrets over this,” Bukauskas said. “I’ve talked to several people about it and it’s something I’m going to embrace. I’m not going to have any regrets looking back. I know I’m making the right decision for me.”

Premium members of Carolina Blue and All-Access VIP members of 247Sports can read more details behind the scenes on Bukauskas’ decision in the first post in the comments section. Find out more about the process of reclassifying, how he projects as a freshman and when the decision actually took place. Bukauskas also discusses the perceived overuse of pitchers by the UNC coaching staff in the 2013 postseason and much, much more. … If you’re not a member of Carolina Blue or 247Sports, now is a great time to join! Find out how to get FREE access until football season by clicking here!

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