When Paulius Zalys first arrived at Perkiomen School last year from his native Lithuania, he found the speed of American basketball and the language barrier a bit daunting.
Zalys, however, attacked both of those challenges with the zeal he attacks the rim.
And these days, the 6-foot-7 junior is equally adept at conversing as he is patrolling the paint.
Zalys, a versatile forward, leads the Tri-County League-leading Panthers (6-0, 9-4) with a 15.5 scoring average. He poured in 30 points in a loss to Pennington School in December, and delivered a 27-point effort in a win over Collegium Charter last month.
"Paulius has a good mix of size, mobility and strength,' Perkiomen School coach Mark Longstreth said. "Depending on what the team needs, he can play just about anywhere on both ends of the court, which allows our other players to play their natural positions. He has a rare ability to feel comfortable in many different game situations.'
Zalys became aware of Perkiomen School through friend and fellow Lithuanian Justas Valciukas, who has played for the Panthers for the past two years.
"I wanted to go to the states to play basketball,' said Zalys, who hails from Kaunas, the second-largest city in Lithuania with a population of more than 342,000. "One thing led to another, and I contacted the coach.'
Suffice it to say Longstreth couldn't be more pleased that he did.
"Lithuania has a lot of kids who really love basketball,' Longstreth said. "Kids who love to play and know how to play. Fundamentals are taught very well over there.
"He's unusually skilled for a player with his size. He can play inside, but he can also handle the ball like a guard and he has 3-point range. He can really play anywhere on the court.'
Zalys literally grew up on the court. His father, Mindaugas, played professionally in Lithuania and was Zalys' biggest influence.
After making it to the final 12 for the Lithuania U-16 national team in 2011, Zalys was the final cut on the U-18 national team last year.
When he arrived in Pennsburg last year, Zalys knew he had to make a few adjustments, both on and off the court.
"Culturally, there was a language barrier at first and school was a bit hard,' he admitted. "But Justas helped me out a lot.
"Back home, basketball is more of a team game; there's not as much isolation and teams play man-to-man defenses almost every game. Here, there's more zones and a lot of one-on-one. And basically basketball here is way faster than it is at home. I'd say the speed of the game is the biggest difference.'
That said, Zalys has made a rather smooth adjustment and has been a key figure in a Panthers rotation that also includes forward Valciukas, guards Tony Coleman and Chandler Junk, center Ja'ren Hampton and sixth-man Efrain Rodriguez.
"He passes very well,' Longstreth said of Zalys, who has drawn interest from schools such as Colgate and Lafayette. "For a kid who can score, he's a very willing passer. He makes other people better. A lot of kids over there want to come over, and sometimes by word of mouth all of a sudden you get a guy here that can play.'
Zalys and the Panthers are closing in on the top seed in the TCL playoff tournament, which begins Monday, Feb. 10 with quarterfinal action at the site of the better seeds. Semis are slated for Tuesday, Feb. 11, at the site of the better seed with the championship taking place Thursday, Feb. 13, at Hill School.
Spring-Ford wound up running the table in Pioneer Athletic Conference play, with Thursday's 59-53 victory over Liberty Division runner-up Methacton giving the Rams a perfect 13-0 league slate.
"One of the goals the team decided upon early in the year was bringing the PAC-10 title back to Spring-Ford,' first-year Rams coach Chris Talley said. "As of now we haven't accomplished anything unless we finish the job in the Final Four.'
Spring-Ford, which is 19-2 overall and ranked as an honorable mention Class AAAA squad in the latest PennLive.com state rankings, has rode its "Big Three' of forward Nick Stanek, guard Drew Kakareka and forward Gary Hopkins along with a deep reserve of guards who fuel an uptempo attack.
"The key to the season has been staying healthy and playing consistent basketball on both ends of the floor,' Talley said. "We have been able to play a lot of guys and all of them have stepped up during key moments.'
The Rams will have to do that two more times if they wish to close the deal of a PAC-10 title.
HILL HOSTING MAPL TOURNEY
The Hill School (4-1, 13-3) has earned the top seed in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League Tournament, which takes place Friday through Sunday at Hill's Gillison Gymnasium.
In Friday's action, fourth seed Lawrenceville faces fifth seed Hun at 6:45 p.m. and third seed Peddie School takes on sixth seed Mercersburg at 8:30 p.m.
Saturday, Hill School meets the Lawrenceville-Hun winner in one semifinal at 5:45 p.m., with second seed Blair facing the Peddie-Mercersburg winner in the other semi at 7:30 p.m.
The championship is slated for Sunday at 2 p.m.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Pottsgrove visits Pope John Paul II in PAC-10 Frontier Division play and Daniel Boone entertains Berks Conference Division 1 leader Wilson Tuesday.
Wednesday, Upper Perkiomen is at neighboring rival Perkiomen School.
And Friday, the PAC-10 Final Four playoffs begin with a semifinal doubleheader at Pottstown's Strom Gymnasium.
Liberty champ Spring-Ford will be taking on the Frontier runner-up (Pottsgrove or Pope John Paul II) in one semifinal, with Liberty runner-up Methacton taking on the Frontier champ (PJP or Pottsgrove) in the other semi.
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD