MOSCOW (Eurocup/FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament) – Jonas Valanciunas will have the eyes of the basketball world on him once again this weekend when he plays for Lietuvos Rytas in the Eurocup Finals in Moscow.
Last summer, the 2.13m center was voted MVP of the FIBA U19 World Championship in Riga for Lithuania and he followed that up with an outstanding senior team debut at the EuroBasket in his own country and was then named 2011 FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year.
The awards haven’t stopped.
He scooped the 2011-12 Rising Star Trophy in the Eurocup and also made the All-Eurocup First Team.
On Saturday, Valanciunas and the Vilnius club will square off against Valencia.
Brad Newley played with Valanciunas at Lietuvos Rytas the past two years before signing in February with Valencia.
"He’s a great guy,” Newley said. “He's maturing every day.
“I've seen many times in the last two years since we started playing together until I left the team that he has improved many things. For us (Valencia), the key will be not to let him do things easily, but make him play hard. It won’t be easy for us because he is very good.”
The sky is the limit for Valanciunas, who was last year drafted fifth by the Toronto Raptors.
"He is certainly an NBA player,” Newley said.
“He can run, can shoot and that’s the sort of thing they like.
“He has very good hands…”
Lietuvos Rytas also have Renaldas Seibutis, the MVP of the 2005 FIBA U21 World Championship in Argentina.
Seibutis helped his country capture a surprise bronze medal at the 2010 FIBA World Championship but was left out of the team that competed at EuroBasket 2011.
He, too, made the All-Eurocup First Team and would be able to add an exclamation point to a terrific season with a title in the competition.
Valanciunas and Seibutis will be hoping to play at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Venezuela for Lithuania this summer.
Newley and fellow Australia international AJ Ogilvy are in the Valencia side.
While the former played at the 2008 Olympics, Ogilvy helped Australia win the FIBA Oceania Championship.
Two other Valencia players are France internationals Nando de Colo and Florent Pietrus, two men expected to be with Les Bleus at the Olympics.
Valencia captain Victor Claver, a player whose position in Spain’s Olympic squad is far from secure, can boost his chances of playing in London with a strong performance in Moscow.
For BC Khimki, there are Vitaly Fridzon and Sergey Monya - two players in the Russia national team rotation.
Dimitriy Khvostov got a lot of minutes at point guard at the 2010 World Championship, and Alexey Zhukanenko was also in that team yet neither made the cut for last year's Russian squad.
Mickael Gelabale of France wasn't able to start on time this season because of an ankle injury he suffered during the EuroBasket and joined Khimki late, playing in just four Eurocup games with the team.
For Spartak, Aleksey Zozulin last played for Russia at EuroBasket 2009 and Loukas Mavrokefalides could play for Greece though he's asked to be excused from national team duty the last two summers.