Jonas Valanciunas helped Lietuvos Rytas to third place of the Eurocup. He hopes to help Lithuania to the 2012 London Olympics this summer. Photo by Eurocup

Jonas Valanciunas had a memorable 2011 summer, winning a youth world championship and making a huge contribution for Lithuania at EuroBasket 2011. Even though Lithuania head coach Kestutis Kemzura was impressed with the 20-year-old’s demeanor last summer, he expects even bigger things from Valanciunas in 2012.

“For him it was a really hard summer. For all of us, but especially for him,” said Kemzura of the big man, who was drafted by the Toronto Raptors, won MVP honors and gold at the U19 World Championship in Latvia and then moved to the senior team and averaged 8.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks at the EuroBasket.

“He was involved in a lot of things – the draft, trips, U19s, no real time for the preparation for the main team. The transfer was not easy but I think he did a good job.”

What really stood out for Kemzura at the European Championship was Valanciunas’s excellent play with wily veteran playmaker Sarunas Jasikevicius.

“Jonas really helped us a lot, especially in unison with Jasikevicius. They found each other and that really worked well for us,” said the coach.

Walking around Vilnius and Kaunas at EuroBasket 2011, it was hard not to think that Jonas Valanciunas was not a rock star. His picture was plastered on billboards throughout the cities and the radio regularly played a song tribute to him.

“Of course he got a lot of attention. It’s not easy, especially for a young guy. But he handled it really well,” said Kemzura.

The coach noticed that Valanciunas was a bit slow coming into the 2011-12 season for Lietuvos Rytas. But that changed as he helped the club to third place in the Eurocup including a double-double in the game for third place against Spartak St. Petersburg.

“He struggled at the beginning of the season but as the season progressed he was doing better and better.”

Although he’s eligible to play at the U20 European Championship, Valanciunas will only line up for the Lithuania senior team at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, where they take on host side Venezuela and Nigeria in the first round with hopes of qualifying for London 2012.

When asked what he expects of Valanciunas this summer, Kemzura said: “I expect even more this coming summer than last summer.”

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