|23 August 2013|
|Jonas Valanciunas has left a good impression in Lithuania's preparation games|
Amid all the talk about the high-profile big men that will miss out at EuroBasket 2013, fans tend to overlook the fact they will still be treated in Slovenia to battles among several of the best centers in the world.
Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Andrea Bargnani, Nikola Pekovic, or Zaza Pachulia are some of the stars that, regrettably, will not grace the hardwood in Europe's greatest tournament.
But then again, the likes of Marc Gasol, best defensive players of the year in the NBA, Nikola Vucevic, the second-leading rebounder in the NBA last season, FC Barcelona top-scorer Ante Tomic, or the 'Polish Machine' Marcin Gortat will be the stars of their respective national teams in Slovenia.
As will Jonas Valanciunas of Lithuania, the youngest player in this company.
In the run-up to EuroBasket 2013, the 21-year-old Toronto Raptors player has emerged as the undisputed leader of one of the most storied national teams in European basketball.
Anything about the young star, from his new look, complete with shaved head and James Harden-like beard, to the changes in his playing style after his rookie season in the NBA have been the subject of daily debate among fans and the media in the Baltic country throughout the summer.
On Thursday, even Arvydas Sabonis, who is now the president of the Lithuanian federation, was forced by the media to make an individual mention on Valanciunas.
"Maybe he needs to be a bit more relaxed and look to also play facing the basket," the Lithuanian legend said.
"When he gets double-teamed in the low post, I think he could pass the ball out to the guards and try to run the play again."
Valanciunas has evidently returned from his first year in the United States more muscular, playing more physically than before, looking to overpower opposing centers in all the friendly games that Lithuania have played - and won - so far in preparations.
Later the same day, Lithuania blew away Russia 82-51 in their second encounter in a friendly tournament in Vilnius, behind 17 points, eight rebounds and four blocks from Valanciunas, in just 21 minutes on the floor.
The telling moment came when the youngster had an exchange of words with Russia veteran 2.15m center Alexey Savrasenko, 12 years his senior.
It didn't escalate into something more than a brief verbal altercation, but Valanciunas had made his point: he is ready to go into battle against any center at the EuroBasket, no matter how old, how strong, or how big.
|LKF President Arvydas Sabonis: "What's important is to keep everyone healthy and ready for the fight for the medals"|
"Every game is a battle, but it all ended peacefully," Valanciunas, wearing his trade-mark smile said afterwards.
"There can be heated moments on the floor, but after the game everything is back to normal.
"From my side there was a lot of English, from him Russian.
"We didn't agree on the language, but we understood each other," he added jokingly, in his usual good-natured tone that has endeared him to fans since his teenage years.
Sabonis gave a diplomatic answer at the suggestion that Lithuania's frontcourt at EuroBasket 2013, comprising of Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, Robertas Javtokas and the Lavrinovic twins, Ksistof and Darjus, is better than the one on the side that conquered bronze at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
"I do not know how to compare one team to the other, they've never played together," Sabonis replied.
"If we could pick out the best from one team and the best from the other then maybe we could come up with a dream team, but this cannot happen.
"What's important is to keep everyone healthy and ready for the fight for the medals."
That team goal at the EuroBasket is also what's on Valanciunas's mind, who gladly diverts attention from himself.
"We compete as a team, and neither I, nor someone else can take the entire responsibility on our shoulders," he said when asked to comment his game-high 17 points.
"We score points as a team and we win as a team."