a beautiful article... we have to give Maurizio Gherardini the credit for this pick...
Valančiūnas rapt to be a Raptor
Posted by editor on 6/25/11 • Categorized as Basketball, Leisure, Sports • Print This Post • ShareThis
As a basketball nation sat wide awake on the edge of their chairs in the small hours of Friday morning, their dreams came true when Jonas Valančiūnas was chosen fifth in the NBA draft and turned towards Toronto.
First of all it was a bit of a surprise that Cleveland didn’t take the talented big man with a lot of potential at pick four – as was widely expected.
Seems the concern over the buyout of Valančiūnas’ existing contract and his tender 19 years of age probably swayed Cleveland towards the more game-ready Tristan Thompson who also has a massive wingspan and great athleticism.
If Jonas had been chosen by Cleveland he would have been pulled into the team immediately and expected to play significant minutes straight away. A tough start to a long career is the worst possible tonic, as evidenced with Martynas Andriuškevičius, and with big men playing well into their mid-thirties there is no reason to hurry at this stage. Still, tell that to a young buck eager to prove himself.
Jonas announced that he was delighted to be heading to Toronto. And of course the Kleiza connection will really give Lithuanian basketball a boost. But in reality Jonas probably isn’t half as happy about the move to Toronto as the Lithuanian basketball public.
During the previous season Siemens has been a regular haunt for NBA talent scouts, and the most prominent among them has been Maurizio Gherardini, the Raptors Vice President and Assistant GM who must have his own key to the place.
The good news is that Toronto are a Euro-centric franchise, despite claiming they are not, and as such are keen supporters of their players representing their country in international competition meaning there will be no club hindrance to Jonas donning the red, green and yellow. (We remember that Ilgauskas sometimes quoted club concerns as his reason for not playing for Lithuania, though this was not the whole story, and after all Lebron made national duty.)
Toronto are also a forward-thinking club and are relaxed with the reality that Jonas needs another year in Europe, at least, to mature both physically and as a player before making his mark in the NBA. Having dealt with a number of European clubs and having good relations with Rytas, they also weren’t scared off by the contract buy-out issues.
The extra year in Europe will be of great benefit to Jonas. First to give his body a chance to mature, give him more time in the weight room and give him a taste of NBA pressure as every time he steps onto the court I’m sure his opponents won’t let him forget his pin-up boy status.
And with the strong possibility of an NBA lock-out next season, it means Jonas won’t be wasting a year of valuable experience running the same drills over and over again on the practice courts and instead improving his craft on the hardwood floors of Europe.
But for me the most impressive thing about Jonas Valančiūnas is the man himself, and I say man rather than boy.
After winning the LKL title last year we joked that he needed to learn how to swear in English properly to be better prepared for increased international competition.
But the best thing is that he didn’t need the lessons. Not because he learnt to swear elsewhere, but because he chose to put his faith in hard work and commitment instead.
Sure he had a good year, but not a great year. Frankly you’d expect more from a number five draft pick. But Jonas’ enduring feature this year was his commitment and desire. He had good games, and he had bad games too. He was benched when he wanted to be playing and he was found wanting a number of times.
Instead of swearing he listened, and instead of blaming others he worked harder in practice and he always kept trying.
There is always a buzz around the stadium when an NBA scout is in the house, but this year it happened so often that even the press didn’t even care much where the latest NBA scout was from.
And Jonas didn’t play his best games when the scouts were watching, but they all saw the same thing that we’ve known for ages: Here is a talented young kid who is intent on making the most of his God-given gifts and has done so remaining a genuine and good natured person – probably his greatest achievement of all.
Let’s all hope the basketball gods are good to Jonas Valančiūnas and one day UNESCO might also name him a significant Lithuanian treasure.