Text: Ray Vysniauskas
Jonas Valančiūnas is on the eve of his NBA debut, something that the basketball public has seen as inevitable for quite a few years, and especially since he was the drafted at five in 2011.
He faces a tough initiation into the big league with nine of the Raptor’s first eleven games against last year’s playoff teams, and 15 of their first 22 games on the road. Then in his first game he faces Indiana Pacers’ All Star centre Roy Hibbert.
The Toronto public has taken a shine to the young man from Utena who continues to present an easy public persona and impresses on court with his athleticism and work ethic.
He has impressed coach Dwane Casey so much in fact, that he has earned a starting spot for the season opener.
On CBC Sports, Casey is quoted as saying: "It's experience against inexperience, but this is the only way this young man is going to learn. Throw him out there in the fire, let him make his mistakes, and learn from them."
Jonas has said he is happy with the team spirit and make-up of the Toronto Raptors team, making him very comfortable with his surroundings and his role in his first NBA season.
I had the chance to talk to him on the eve of his NBA debut, and our chat started as he was just finishing the dishes.
Jonas can you briefly describe how you’re feeling on the eve of your first NBA game?
I feel good. As you can see I’m cleaning the kitchen sink. No, I feel good. Right now I feel normal, it’s just another game; another game where you have to get the ball in the hoop.
Obviously there is a difference. There might be more nerves tomorrow, but not right now.
When did you think you first had a realistic chance of playing in the NBA?
I never thought about it until I got here. It never really hit me until I got here that I could be wearing a Toronto jersey.
Really, not even after the 2011 NBA Draft, or even back in your days at Perlas?
No, not until I arrived in Toronto and was at training camp.
How has your NBA preparation differed from your time with other coaches?
There is a difference because we have more practice time here. You start early in the morning and don’t finish until three or four in the afternoon.
It’s kind of hard to play against these guys because it’s more physical and faster. The NBA game is tough, fast and physical compared to Europe.
In Europe it’s more of a thinking, tactical game.
Does the NBA game suit you better?
We’ll see. I hope so.
What are your personal goals for your rookie year?
Jonas looks at me as if I’ve asked the stupidest question of my career -
My goal is to be rookie of the year.
I want to help the team as much as I can, I want to win as many games as we can, and I want to play the best that I can.
Last year you were playing in places like Prienai and Palanga, and this year it will be New York, Chicago and Miami. Will it be a big adjustment?
It’s different, but really it’s just another gym. They may be bigger, more spectators, but basketball is basketball everywhere. You have to put the ball in the hole.
And finally, is there anyone you are looking forward to playing against in particular?
Jonas looks at me, and without hesitation –
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