Raptors draft pick sharp against U.S.

Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas of Lithuania and Raptors President and General Manager Bryan...

Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas of Lithuania and Raptors President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo holds Valanciunas' new jersey in Toronto, June 24, 2011. (REUTERS/Peter Jones)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:37 PM ET

Many Raptors fans were in hysterics when Jonas Valanciunas’ name was called at the NBA Draft last Thursday because they had never seen him play.

A whole bunch of them got their first look at the big Lithuanian on Tuesday afternoon and it was hard not to be impressed, even if he wasn’t exactly going up against Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell.

Valanciunas was the best player on the floor as Lithuania humiliated the United States 108-75 in a tuneup for the FIBA under-19 championship, which gets underway on Thursday in Latvia.

The fifth overall selection by the Raptors imposed his will on the smaller Americans, compiling a game-high 23 points and 11 rebounds, along with two blocks and a steal.

Valanciunas is rail-thin and must pack on 15-25 pounds before he can compete effectively in the NBA, but against those his own age, he has consistently dominated.

Previously, Valanciunas was named MVP of FIBA’s under-18 and under-16 tournaments.

The Americans, including 6-foot-9, 220-pound Florida big man Patric Young — a potential lottery pick in 2012 — had no answers for his length and intensity.

Valanciunas constantly got under the skin of his opponents at both ends and drew a ton of free throw attempts, going 11-15 from the stripe.

Rusty since he had only been back in Lithuania for a few days since being introduced in Toronto on Friday, Valanciunas missed four of his first five shots from the floor before going 5-of-6 from the field the rest of the way.

While he badly needs to add strength — some of his layups need to be dunks at the next level and his post moves will improve with more bulk — he impressed with his positioning, willingness to mix it up, the chaos he caused inside thanks to his long arms and his ability to get off the floor quickly for second and third attempts at shots or rebounds.

Valanciunas calmly took — and knocked down — his only attempt at a mid-range jumper.

All in all, an impressive performance, considering how much of a whirlwind the past couple of weeks have been for him.

IN TOUGH

Canada will be in tough at the under-19 tournament which runs from Thursday, July 11.

Valanciunas and Lithuania are in Canada’s group, along with Croatia and Korea.

At least one Canadian won’t be intimidated though.

“Toronto is my hometown, so it will be very interesting to play against (Valanciunas, the new Raptor),” 7-foot-4 big man Sim Bhullar told FIBA.com about the challenge.

Canada will open against Korea on Thursday.

MORE MAURIZIO?

According to Italian newspaper La Tribuna of Treviso, Maurizio Gherardini expects to be re-upped by the Raptors.

His contract is slated to expire on Thursday night but apparently, negotiations are in progress.

Gherardini joined the Raptors in June of 2006, becoming the first European to hold a senior management position in the NBA.

He has shifted from vice president and assistant general manager to senior vice president, basketball operations.

The Raptors declined to comment on Gherardini’s status.

Gherardini also told La Tribuna he believes Andrea Bargnani has shown constant improvement, but has not won the affections of Toronto fans because he does not show enough passion and intensity on the court.

NBA DRAFT A DIGITAL HIT

Even an NBA draft considered the weakest in a decade couldn’t keep the ratings down, particularly the digital ones.

Coverage of the draft on nba.com was at a record level from June 23-26. Nearly 17 million video streams — nearly triple the 2010 number and more than 85 million page views, up 53% over the previous year.

Draftexpress.com, the most popular independent draft site, also posted record numbers.

The television figures haven’t been released yet, but the digital results show just how popular the draft has become.

BOOKKEEPING

The Raptors extended a qualifying offer to Sonny Weems earlier this week, but declined to do the same for forwards Julian Wright and Joey Dorsey, who now will become restricted free agents.

There are no guarantees Weems returns, but he is a cheap option and the Raptors are weak at the small forward position.

ryan.wolstat@sunmedia.ca


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