TORONTO (NBA) - There were a lot of people in Lithuania who stayed awake until the early hours of Thursday morning to keep tabs on events in Canada.
That's because their favorite son, 20-year-old Jonas Valanciunas, the national team big man and rookie center of the Toronto Raptors, was making his regular-season debut against the Indiana Pacers.
The 2.11m pivot has been one of the biggest names in international basketball for a few years, now.
In 2011, he was named MVP of the FIBA U19 World Championship after leading Lithuania to the gold medal in Riga, Latvia, and he immediately graduated to the senior team and played at EuroBasket 2011 in his own country.
After a standout 2011-12 campaign with Lietuvos Rytas, Valanciunas decided he was ready for the NBA wars.
He warmed up for the challenge by helping Lithuania earn a trip to the London Games via the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, with Toronto assistant general manager and vice president Maurizio Gherardini watching his every move.
Valanciunas then travelled to Britain and competed against the best players in the world.
On Wednesday in Toronto, following an impressive pre-season, Valanciunas lived up to the hype.
Despite, in the words of coach Dwane Casey, "being thrown to the wolves" by starting at center against Indiana Pacers behemoth Roy Hibbert, Valanciunas scored 12 points and corralled 10 rebounds.
The Raptors lost 90-88 when the Pacers scored with a couple of seconds left on the clock but Valanciunas showed, at least in his first game, that he belongs in the best league in the world.
“The first half (was) a learning experience for him, Hibbert had his way a little bit,” Casey said.
“But he made adjustments, made Hibbert work the second half, did an excellent job against him.
"I was proud of the way he played.
"If he can give us that and continue to improve...making adjustments, making the passes, defensive presence in the paint, his rebounds in traffic are exactly what we need.”
There are 82 games in the regular season, so Valanciunas has a long way to go.
When told of his statistical output against the Pacers, Valanciunas sounded surprised.
“I did double-double?” he said.
“Great. But it’s important that our team win. Today team lose, so was not enough, double-double. Maybe I need to have a triple-double.”
It's as if Valanciunas, who figures to be a part of Lithuania's national team for many years and will be their leading light at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, already feels the burden of carrying the Raptors.
Maybe that's a sign that more good things are to come.