Now that Jonas Valanciunas has concluded a stellar FIBA U19 tournament by leading Lithuania to gold the temptation is to go over the top in praising the prospect.
You know, the way most basketball fans in this country went totally nuts when they found out the Raptors had rolled the dice on another big man of non-North American descent.
But just as that draft night reaction was ridiculous — most Valanciunas detractors had never even seen the man play — so too would be going overboard based on his play against competition that was, with apologies to those participating, not overly impressive.
The Americans had a hard time getting their top prospects over — though Florida centre Patric Young is considered by some a potential 2012 lottery pick — and no other players were capable of dealing with Valanciunas’ combination of size, skill, agility and competitiveness.
That said, what Valanciunas accomplished in Latvia certainly is deserving of recognition and Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo surely is doing cartwheels, though, citing NBA lockout rules, he declined to admit as much to the Sun on Sunday afternoon.Valanciunas has now led his country to the gold medal at the European U16 and U18 tournaments and now, the world U19, earning tournament MVP each time, believed to be an unprecedented feat.
He led this event in scoring (23 per game), rebounding (13.9), blocks (3.2), double-doubles (seven in nine games for 7-2 Lithuania) and was second in field goal percentage to Canada’s Dyshawn Pierre.Source: Torontosun.comHis second act of the summer will be much more difficult.
At the end of August and into September, Valanciunas is expected to be the senior teams’ backup centre as Lithuania hosts Europe for the Eurobasket competition.
He will play behind Robertas Javtokas, once a San Antonio Spurs prospect and the most athletic big man in Europe before injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident severely affected his game.
Lithuania will be in a group with defending European champion Spain and its world-class pair of big men, Pau and Marc Gasol.
Getting results against those NBA stars will be far more difficult.
It will also be interesting to see how Valanciunas fares against one of the NBA’s best-kept defensive secrets, Chicago Bulls centre Omer Asik, who plays for Turkey, another member of Lithuania’s group.
Turkey might also have Enes Kanter, who went two picks ahead of Valanciunas and veteran Memo Okur, though injuries might keep Okur out.
Depending on how the tournament goes, Valanciunas might even see himself up against future teammate Andrea Bargnani, though Italy is in a different group.
Valanciunas intrigued in Latvia, but what he does at Eurobasket in a couple of months will paint a clearer picture of how close he is to making an impact in the NBA.
I'd love to see him go head to head against Bargnani.