From the folks at FIBA comes a dispatch on the guy who may already be Lithuania’s most popular player in North America, Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas arrived in Toronto this week as he begins preparations for the 2012-13 NBA season…

(FIBA) – The time has almost arrived for Jonas Valanciunas to get a taste of the NBA.

The MVP of the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship in Riga, Latvia, made the grade as an important member of the senior squad at the EuroBasket that followed.

After a strong campaign in the EuroCup and the VTB United League with Lietuvos Rytas, the 20-year-old center played at this summer’s FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament and then the London Games.

It’s time.

Joining up with the Raptors, the team that selected him early in the 2011 Draft, is the next step. He is about to experience change both in terms of competition on the court, and life on a different continent.

“I am ready for this,” he says. “My life will change … I think that really, I am ready.”

Valanciunas could have waited a while to go to Toronto with the training camp not tipping off until 1 October, but he needs to find a place to live and get his bearings in the NBA’s only Canadian city and left Lithuania over the weekend for North America.

“I want to handle matters,” he says. “It’s necessary to get acclimatized, and find a home. I want a clear head start when it’s time to prepare for the season.”

Toronto decided to tweet a photo taken of Valanciunas at the airport in Canada upon his arrival, and that led to 171 Retweets – a sign of just how popular the young player is.

One person that has seen a lot of Valanciunas the last two summers has been his national team coach Kestutis Kemzura. When asked by what Kemzura had told him before his departure to America, Valanciunas says: “[He said,] ‘Don’t be in a hurry.’”

“I’ve received a lot of advice,” Valanciunas added.

Valanciunas, Lithuanians hope, will return to the national squad next summer when the Baltic country plays in EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia and attempts to qualify for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Tags: , , , , , ,