Fri, September 20, 2013

Raptors GM defends Olympic play of Jonas Valanciunas

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Raptors draft pick Jonas Valanciunas of Lithuania (L) has played well at the 2012 Olympics, Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo says.

LONDON - Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo administered a verbal Valium to Raptors fans who may be in a tizzy over the play of the club’s 2011 first-round draft pick at these Olympic Games.

In five games with the Lithuanian team, Jonas Valanciunas is averaging just 3.6 points and three rebounds in 10.6 minutes and has had difficulty establishing himself on the Lithuanian team in this, the biggest tournament of his career. His minutes under coach Kestutis Kemzura have been limited as a starter and he only played 8:32 in a 99-94 loss to the U.S. on Saturday.

But Colangelo, who has been in London watching the basketball, is duly impressed with what he has seen of the seven-foot centre, who was picked fifth overall in 2011, and is certainly not pushing the panic button. Valanciunas will join the Raptors for the 2012-13 season.

“In limited minutes, I think he’s done fine,” Colangelo told QMI Agency, via e-mail. “Obviously coach (Kemzura) is going with his comfort zone and playing the more veteran players. This is still a great experience for the 20-year-old future of their program.”

Raptors fans are wary of the club using high picks to draft non-American bigs who don’t work out at the NBA level — Aleksandar Radojevic 12th overall, 1999; Rafael Araujo, 8th overall, 2004. But Valanciunas has excelled at international tournaments before (2011 Eurobasket) that he does have the juice to play at the highest levels. In 2011, he was voted Lithuanian player of the year and FIBA European Young Men’s player of the year.

Raptors officials have warned their fans that Valanciunas’ development will take time, given his age, size and position. For his part, Kemzura, despite limiting his young star’s minutes, has certainly not thrown Valanciunas under the bus here in London, though he was seen giving his young centre a loud what-for when he returned to the bench at one point against Nigeria — a game in which Valanciunas picked up four points and three rebounds in 12 minutes of play.

“Sometimes, he wants to come in and do everything right away,” Kemzura told the Sporting News, when asked of the young centre’s play. “In his head, he is working too fast. He is young, that happens. But he needs to slow down.

“It is like with most big men who have no experience,” Kemzura added. “First he must get bigger and stronger. He must be able to hold his position and he needs strength for this. Second, he needs better post moves. He is still learning basics. He will play with his back to the basket when he is older. But now, he must learn. He needs to learn these things, and he will, but he will need time. He has a lot of work to do.”

Kemzura has been quick to pull Valanciunas out of games when the opposition goes to smaller lineup. He picked up three fouls in his first two games at the Olympics, against Argentina and Nigeria, and that may also be a reason why Kemzura has limited his minutes.

Lithuania, traditionally one of the top teams in international basketball, have gone 2-3 in London and will play Russia (4-1) in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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