TORONTO - When the Raptors drafted Jonas Valanciunas fifth overall two summers ago the team thought it had finally found an answer in the middle.
Still, even the most optimistic among the team's brass didn't expect the Lithuanian would start from Day 1.
Yet, Valanciunas has won the starting centre job and will line up against Roy Hibbert when the 2012-13 season tips off on Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said Monday that he wasn't just throwing the rookie in to see what he could do. According to Casey, Valanciunas played his way into the job.
"He's earned it. He's a guy that's talented. Does he make mistakes? Yes, most rookies do. But his upside is huge," Casey said.
"I see nothing but great things for this young man down the road and probably a different type of greatness," said the coach.
"Probably not big numbers, 25, 30 points a game, that's going to come down the road, but just everything else he does is going to have an impact on our team."
It's a bold call, but the right one for the franchise.
Valanciunas is the new face of the Raptors and as he has already demonstrated, a pretty decent basketball player, particularly defensively.