Jonas Valanciunas

We’re a few days removed from the NBA Draft and the night that the Raptors selected Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas with the fifth overall pick and I’ve spoken to a couple of scouts about the newest Raptor to see what they had to say. I had to do something, because the set up of the draft in Newark was not at all conducive to getting any real information about Jonas. If you’re unaware of how the draft works, it goes something like this:

- Player gets drafted, hugs mother, kisses girlfriend (if he is Jan Vesely), shakes hands, puts on hat and goes to the stage to shake hands with David Stern.

- Player is escorted off of the stage to sit down and speak with ESPN Radio people on the floor just opposite the green room.

- Player is then given a “handler” for all intents and purposes, usually a young, attractive female whose job is to whisk the brand new pro through a long hallway in the back of the Prudential Center –where they are being filmed by cameramen– toward the interview room where the player will sit at a podium and talk with reporters from various outlets.

- Media members can raise their hand to ask a question and a mic will be brought over to them if they are lucky. Note: I was not lucky as both times I raised my hand, I was not given a mic and was therefore unable to speak with Jonas.

- Player is then taken behind a black curtain to go through various stations of television promos and interviews. Print media is not allowed past the black curtain, unfortunately.

- Once the television circuit is complete, the player is then whisked into a room to take photos with their new team hat on and sometimes end up in a room for a conference call with the media who did not make the trip to the draft.

- It’s pretty exhausting. Tristan Thompson, for example, was selected fourth, somewhere around 7:45 p.m. and he didn’t finish the television circuit until 9:30 p.m. Pretty wild, right? While I saw Jonas exit the black curtain, he was quickly escorted to the photo room and I did not see him again after that.

- From the brief moments that I did see/hear him, it’s pretty clear that he was overwhelmed. Likely because of the language barrier (although I’ve been told he’s great when you have him one-on-one in a more low-key setting), and also because of the stress, joy and excitement of the night, but there was something really sweet about the wide-eyed look Jonas was sporting.

- A man of few words, he was so very happy. While we’re so used to players being relatively understated when it comes to big moments, my favorite thing about the draft is that these emotions often spill over because the guys are truly unable to hold them in, and Jonas was a perfect example of that. He couldn’t seem to stop smiling and looking around as if to say, “I can’t believe this is really happening.”

- I can’t lie, when his name was called, I gasped. I said something, I’m not even sure what it was, but I know it was surprise. I think in the excitement and happiness for Thompson going fourth overall, it slipped my mind that Jonas was still available and I was expecting to hear the name Knight or Biyombo for the Raptors.

- It was fun to watch Tristan Thompson’s face as the Raptors selected Jonas. He was sitting directly behind me, talking to the ESPN guys and he wore the same surprised expression I was sporting. After hearing Thompson talk about how he would always be a Raptors fan, it would have been cool to see what he thought about the newest Raptor.

- Here’s what I was emailed and texted in the next two hours while waiting in the back hoping –unsuccessfully– to get some solo time with Jonas to ask him about Toronto:

- He’s a legit C who can rebound, block shots and protect the rim. Great work ethic. Free throw percentage has gotten up into the 80′s over the past two years.

- Two separate people gave the Joakim Noah comparison, while another used Tyson Chandler, funny since this is also something Raptors coach Dwane Casey mentioned in his quotes from draft night.

- Both used the Noah comparison while saying “not as gritty” and “more understated”. This cracked me up.

- The talk of his rebounding rate is interesting and I’m sure we’ll be talking more about this with some people as the week continues. Specifically, during our Raptorblog podcast that we’ll be recording on Tuesday.

- He’s passionate, hard working and physical. In other words: If you’re nervous because you’ve been soured by some of the European players this team has had, no need. We’re not talking about Andrea 2.0 here.

I’ll leave you on that note because I know for many Raptors fans, another player who needs time to develop is exactly the opposite of what they desired. As long as he’s intense and passionate, though, just remember: It could be worse.

You can wait for development. You can’t wait on passion ever being found because that’s an innate quality, not one that can be learned over time.