He was the star on one team, but on the other he was a backup. So he spent every waking hour working on his game until coaches noticed.
He is used to hardship and people trying to push him around. Puleikis, now a senior center at Detroit Country Day, hardly flinched when Breyshawn Currie of Harper Woods Chandler Park threw a hard shoulder as Puleikis ran to his usual spot just outside the paint.
He briefly threw his arms in the air to protest but immediately went back to work taking Chandler Park (18-5) apart one layup at a time. Puleikis was Country Day's most impressive player Wednesday night during an 89-52 victory in the Class B regional championship at Notre Dame Prep.
Country Day (19-5) advances to the quarterfinals Tuesday.
"I knew he was upset," Puleikis said. "I was making shots, his team is losing and he is irritated. I am not going to let anything disrupt my game. I want to win. I don't care if I score five as long as we win the basketball game."
Definitely tough enough
Country Day coach Kurt Keener noticed the exchange. It was a moment of truth. Puleikis had two options. He could back down and give Chandler Park hope or stand his ground and continue to play. Puleikis is one more example of the soft European player being a thing of the past. He stood and hooped.
"He is a tough kid," Keener said. "He is not going to back down."
He also won't give ground. Puleikis' game is as straight forward as a punch to the nose.
I don't know if Puleikis can hit a 15-foot jumper, slam dunk or do a crossover dribble.
His game is basic, raw and effective. In fact, he kind of runs upright. But Puleikis can make layups and dig into the paint, and he looks like a spinning top when he shoots in the lane.
Puleikis scored 28 on 14 basket, and I am not sure if they were 14 feet total. Puleikis was nearly flawless. He missed two shots and had a third blocked. Everything else went in.
"We knew they did not have a strong big guy in the paint and our goal was to attack," Puleikis said. "My teammates kept giving me the ball and I just made shots."
The dude was so deadly it was laughable. He made regular layups, scoop layups and reverse layups. He was not the human highlight film; he was the one-man layup line. None of his shots would make plays of the week. He simply played efficiently. You can't really block his shot because he is 6-foot-9 and his shots come from all types of angles and arm slots.
"This was his most aggressive game of the season," Keener said.