PANEVEZYS (EuroBasket 2011) - For Jonas Valanciunas, it's all about the upside. Drafted by the Toronto Raptors at no. 5 overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, this 19-year-old has the talent to be a cornerstone player for both a top-level professional franchise and one of the world's most celebrated national teams - but for now, he'll have to have a little patience.
For the first time, Valanciunas has been called into service for Lithuania in time for the FIBA European Championship tournament, though he can expect to see limited minutes on a team loaded with big men carrying far more experience. In the first two games of the EuroBasket competition, he has seen just 22 minutes of court time as he pays the dues required of a player at least 5-1/2 years younger than his closest teammate.
When asked about Valanciunas' heretofore limited playing time, national team coach Kestutis Kemzura acknowledged that the young man may be the future of Lithuania in the 2012 Olympics and beyond, but explained that "His role will be important enough. If he played 40 minutes for the U19 national team, don't expect he is going to play same amount of minutes on the national team. His role is different here, but he has to be ready to give team additional energy and aggressiveness."
Energy and aggressiveness did Valanciunas indeed bring in game two of the EuroBasket tournament. On court for 18 minutes against Poland, Valanciunas made his presence felt, particularly on the defensive end, while contributing seven points and four rebounds - and showing some demonstrative reactions as well.
Said Valanciunas after the game, "I was emotional, I was pumped up. I tried to play aggressively ... in a physical match against Poland." While Kemzura may not necessarily have appreciated Valanciunas' reactions to foul calls by the referees and perhaps a little over-animated play on defense, he had to appreciate his prospect's willingness to dive into the game wholeheartedly.
While this future star may need to learn a few things about self-control, there is no denying that Valanciunas will be one player to watch at the 2012 Olympic Games ... and probably sometime soon, the courts of the NBA.