|22 July 2010|
Nowadays even at a young age like 18 some players arrive to the youth European Championships with at least some sort of star halo.
|Jonas Valanciunas has raised comparisons to Lithuanian hero Arvidas Sabonis but is far from taking off too early|
In the 2010 OMNITEL U18 European Championship it's pretty clear the halo is lighting the way of the local hero Jonas Valanciunas.
The 2.10m center is the big hope of Lithuanian basketball as the next big thing, but the young prospect is mature enough not to let these talks spin his head.
His break through into the world of European basketball prospects came exactly two years ago in the U16 European Championship in Italy.
Valanciunas was the MVP of the tournament won by a golden Lithuanian team.
The combination of good length, athleticism, agility and coordination along with a set of fundamentals and skills made him the prospect that he is.
Now he attracts the most focus on the U18 Lithuanian team in this championship.
"I know there's a big spotlight on me, but I try not to let that get into my head," he says in an interview to the official website of the competition.
Every European hoops fan knows that Lithuania is a basketball country, and the pressure around the team is more than obvious, but Valanciunas and his teammates try to stay away from the big talks around.
"We are aware of the pressure and try to handle it. It's part of the things we need to learn as basketball players," he says.
"Our goal is to play good and not disappoint all the people who follow us."
Last year Lithuania hosted the U16 European Championship and after almost being eliminated in the first round made a great recovery and finished 2nd.
"We know what happened last summer, and that's why it's very important that we started with a 20 point win. We want to reach just one step higher than what the team from last year did," he sets a goal with comfort.
After winning the gold medal two years ago with the U16 team Valanciunas has already the experience of what it takes to be a champion.
"It's not going to be as easy as it was two years ago," he says referring to the 75-33 victory over Czech Republic in the title game back then.
"There are many good teams here like Spain, Serbia, Croatia and others who can give us a lot of trouble, but if we stay focused we can make things happen."
During the interview fans approach Valanciunas and ask for his autograph.
A local lady gets her national team scarf signed, a couple of youngsters get the symbols on the official programme.
Not many 18 year old boys find themselves signing their name for fans, but the soon-to-be-a-star knows already how to handle the requests just like any adult super star, with patience and respect to the approaching fans.
"I think people started to recognize me after I joined the senior team of Lietuvos Rytas," he says.
"Since then things have changed a bit, but that's part of the game."
The Siemens Arena, where the U18 championship takes place is also the home court of Valanciunas' team - BC Lietuvos Rytas and this is great preparation for him.
"I'm very excited towards the upcoming season," he shares.
"I hope to play a lot of minutes this year. Not only in the local league and the Baltic league, but also in the Euroleague, yet I still need to work a lot to get there.
"There's still a lot of things I need to improve, get stronger and be ready for senior level.
"I don't think too far now and plan about making the NBA after the next season or something like that," he claims.
"I'm still young and need to work very hard to be good enough for the top level.
"Right now the main goal is to make the Lithuanian fans happy and win as many games as possible in this championship."
Lithuania started the tournament with an 81-61 win over Ukraine in Group A.
Valanciunas and his team-mates hope it was the first in a series that will finish with yet another gold medal.