Bargnani:

The Toronto Raptors centre responded with a heroic solo effort, scoring a tournament-high 36 points along with seven rebounds to give his team a fighting chance of reaching the second group stage.

The Italians need to win their remaining two preliminary stage games against France and Israel and hope that other results go their way if they are to advance to the top 12, featuring two groups of six.

“It was very important to win and stay in contention after the opening two defeats, we are all exhausted after playing three games in as many days but also overjoyed that we have finally put some points on the board,” said Bargnani.

“We have now rekindled our hopes of not just winning our next two games, but playing to the best of our abilities because we know we can improve.”

Jonas:

Valanciunas helped host Lithuania become the first team at the tournament to score 100 points with a 100-90 win over Serbia.

Valanciunas had 18 points (on 8-of-9 shooting), five rebounds and a block in just 20 minutes, as Lithuania, 2-1, got 47 points from its bench.

Lithuania rallied from a seven-point deficit in the fourth.

Valanciunas, one of the youngest players competing, is now shooting 75% from the field and averaging 9.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, a block and a steal in 17 minutes per game.

Kleiza:

I’m hearing through spies in Lithuania that Linas Kleiza’s on schedule in his rehab from knee surgery. He’s been doing some broadcasting over at the European championships and is due back in North America later this month to be seen by the doctors who did the surgery out in Colorado.

He’s still looking at a couple of months before he can get back on the court but things are coming along as well as can be expected.

Let’s recap.

Our starting center/PF is tearing shit up. Our rookie is blazing a trail in Europe. Our small forward is on his way to being healthy while honing his broadcasting skills. Awesome stuff. If only the Raptors played in Europe, I’d be even more jacked up than I am now. Also, having a season would help.

I saw Jonas the other day against Nenad Krstic (he’s considered quality here), and he looked good. Well, he looked great setting screens and rolling to the rim, and it’s clear that he’ll give slower centers fits just based on his movement. He’s the most agile big man on the Raptors right now, his movement is quick and determined, and he sees a play through, almost always trying to position himself for an offensive rebound. The ball-handling is expectedly suspect, which means his offensive game is limited, and he doesn’t know how/when to look for his shot. The theory is that his negatives are offset by the positives of the Raptors, and that his positives are in such great need by the club, that he’s going to have an immediate impact.

To me, the starting center job is still Bargnani’s to lose. Bargnani is the more skilled big man, has the greater talent, has vastly superior experience, and should by all accounts, be blowing Valanciunas out of the water. People talk about Bargnani shifting over to the four to make way for Valanciunas. F**k that. Have these two fight for the starting center role. If losing his starting center job to a rookie isn’t going to light a fire under Bargnani, then nothing will. The Raptors have a chance to give Bargnani’s character the ultimate litmus test: step up your defense and attitude, or you lose out to a rookie! You don’t have to waste a whole season watching these two battle it out, training camp should be good enough, and with Casey’s discerning eye serving as motivation, this would be a fight to relish.

Back to Jonas. Overall, if you’re looking for a contrast to Bargnani, you got it. Of course, I still have no idea how his game will translate to the NBA, but one thing’s for certain: rebounding always translates to the pro-level – unless you’re short, which Jonas is not. Reason to be excited? Sure, I’m a little excited, mostly because everybody else seems to be excited so the hype rubs off on me. Kinda like in the same way it did when Bargnani was drafted.

I see Valanciunas teetering somewhere between a skilled big man like Luis Scola, a defensive big man like Tyson Chandler, or f***in’ Jeff Foster. I have no idea. All I can say with surety is that he’s got the right attitude to be playing his position, the question becomes, how well can he develop, and how well can the Raptors help him develop. If you look at the number of “project” big men on the Raptors, the coaching staff has their work cut-out: Amir Johnson, Ed Davis, Solomon Alabi, and Jonas Valanciunas. That is a lot of “potential” that needs coaching, and I’m not even sure one Eric Hughes is enough. Remember, Colangelo’s working under the timeline that foreign big men can take up to five years to “develop” – that’s a whole lot of developing.

Where am I going with this? To work, I got an early meeting.

Random life note: Two weeks ago my Dad felt some chest pain, made nothing of it and continued gardening. Three days later he felt it again, this time not as bad, sat down, had a glass of water and read a book. Four days later, he felt it again. Had a glass of milk, went for a walk, felt better, but thought of going to the ER just in case since it was a weekend anyway. Turns out he had had three heart attacks. He’s better now, released from hospital after an angioplasty. Moral of the story: feel chest-pain, go the ER, regardless of your family history or diet.

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