Although we can’t credit him alone for the victories, Lithuanian powerhouse Jonas Valanciunas was instrumental in leading the basketball-crazy nation through its first key victories against Ukraine, Latvia and Croatia in this year’s FIBA Eurobasket championship, earning its Men’s National Team a spot in the final round against France. His performance across the pond builds on his recent success as an NBA rookie last season, during which the Toronto Raptors center took a boost in minutes by both horns to hit an average of 11.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
Now, despite preparations for the final rounds of the championships, Valanciunas found time for a short and sweet session with BALLnROLL about fame, his upcoming season playing with the Raptors and how Kung Fu makes for a great active defence (sort of).
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
BALLnROLL: Before EuroBasket, you dominated the Las Vegas Summer League with great play—you hit an average of 18.8 points and 10 rebounds. For your performance, you were named the league's most valuable player, joining former MVPs such as Blake Griffin, John Wall, Jerryd Bayless and Damian Lillard. How does it feel to be honoured alongside them?
Jonas Valanciunas: It's a great honor to be compared to the players like Blake Griffin, John Wall or Damian Lillard. Though I still feel I need to improve my game.
BnR: How are you handling all the extra media attention, and did you expect to get this much this soon in your NBA career?
JV: It's tough to be honest. And I have to apologize that I can't respond to every inquiry.
BnR: During the Summer League, it looks like you put on muscle while keeping your speed intact. What kind of exercise and diet have you been using to improve your fitness?
JV: I was just following the guidelines of my strength and conditioning coaches from Toronto. Don't have any special diet, love meat, fish, seafood.
BnR: You're in the middle of Eurobasket. What have been your biggest challenges playing for Lithuania this year?
JV: Lithuania is a different team than last year with new coach and new players. Biggest challenge is to find a game rhythm and understanding after those changes.
BnR: What do you do to relax when you're not playing basketball?
JV: When I'm in Lithuania I love to fish and hunt. Sauna helps me to relax as well. Watching movies, listening to music, spending time with my friends.
Photo: Matthew Addie / Creative Commons
BnR: Speaking of your home, what are the biggest differences between Lithuania and Canada? Have you been surprised by anything in Toronto?
JV: The biggest difference is in the mentality of the people, multiculturalism and prices! Everything else is pretty much the same: climate, food, even the metrics.
BnR: Being so famous in your hometown, do fans ever leave you alone when you're out in public? Is it different in Toronto?
JV: It's much more difficult to remain unnoticed in public places in Lithuania. Ice hockey overshadows other sports in Toronto. In Lithuania basketball does the same.
BnR: Your rookie year is almost over. How have you grown as a player and as a person since you started with the Raptors?
JV: I made a step forward. I feel progress in everything – on and off the court. I had great people around me within Raptors. They make my journey easier. But it's still much ahead of me I have to accomplish.
Photo: Jonas Valanciunas / Facebook
BnR: Do you feel ready for your next season?
JV: My thoughts are with European Championship at the moment. I will start thinking about my next season immediately after EuroBasket is over.
BnR: Basketball season is still over a month away, but September is the height of fashion season. Do you have any cool new clothes that you are planning to wear this fall, or have you seen any trends you would like to try out?
JV: I visited my tailor in Italy in May, who made some suits and jackets for the new season. Had some purchases at designer shops in Italy as well.
BnR: I hear you have a good sense of humour. Could you tell us your favourite Lithuanian joke in English?
JV: Lithuanian humor differs from American one. That makes it complicated to properly translate a joke! I prefer improvisation depending on the circumstances.
BnR: Lastly, do you have any response to this funny video made in good fun by your fans on Reddit?
JV: Nothing more but active defense!
BnR: Thank you for your time!
Cover photo: Bola Presa