GANTER: Valanciunas says ex-Raptors teammates ‘still my guys’


DONGGUAN, China — Jonas Valanciunas may no longer be a member of the Toronto Raptors but he remains tied to the team for at least another seven months and a bit.

Valanciunas, working out with his native Lithuania in advance of his country’s opener on Sunday against Senegal in the FIBA World Cup, didn’t need to be told when his new NBA club, the Memphis Grizzlies, visits his old one.

“Yeah, I saw that date,” he said when asked if he had March 30th — Memphis’ only visit to Toronto —  circled on his calendar.

It’s significant because if the Raptors are going to honour Valanciunas, a centre they leaned on for the first five months of their NBA championship year with a ring and a guy they developed from a shy 19-year-old, that will be the date he gets it.

And all indications are Valanciunas will be getting a ring.

“Well, Kyle (Lowry) texted me ‘What’s your ring size?’ So, I don’t know.  I asked him ‘What, wedding ring?’,” Valanciunas said.

“That’s my guy, they’re all still my guys, I’m on opposite side during the season, but . . . “

Valanciunas will actually be seeing a lot of his guys around that date with the schedule having the two teams playing back-to-back with the first meeting two nights earlier in Memphis.

Valanciunas made a bit of a surprise return to Toronto after the February trade that brought Marc Gasol to the Raptors and sent Valanciunas, Delon Wright and CJ Miles to Memphis.

It was the opening night of the Raptors playoff run, a shocking loss to Orlando before the Raptors righted the ship and found their groove.

Valanciunas, who was seated on the baseline just opposite the Toronto bench got a huge ovation as he made his way to his seat, the fan base having no trouble spotting the seven-footer despite the full house.

“That was amazing, actually that was amazing,” Valanciunas said of the fan reaction to his return. “I’m not allowed to cry, I’m a centre, big guy so I’m not allowed to do that.”

But he admitted the night was not an easy one, watching the guys he grew up with at the very start of what turned out to be a memorable journey.

“ It was kind of hard, because I wanted to be (out) there,’ Valanciunas said standing courtside at the Dongguan Basketball Centre following Lithuania’s practice. “But it was fun to watch because my guys were doing good. All those from Game 1 until the Finals . . . I didn’t watch all of them, because sometimes I let myself sleep, but I watched a couple of games, especially Finals. But you wake up in the morning these days and you can watch all the highlights, all the score boxes and stuff like that.”

March 30th, the Raptors will show Valanciunas just how much they appreciated him.


Injuries forced Canada into a last-second change in their frontcourt depth.

With Oshae Brissett out and Kelly Olynyk already out of commission thanks to a spill in an earlier exhibition, Canada found itself rather short on big bodies.

The answer arrived late Friday as B.C. native Conor Morgan got here just in time for the start of the tournament.

Morgan isn’t a household name even among those who scour the Euroleagues for Canadians on rosters. Head coach Nick Nurse and the rest of the team will do a quick get-to-know-you over the next few days with Morgan before he sees the court.

“I know he’s a good size, 6-8, 6-9, can shoot the ball, plays in the ACB, not really as highly, or widely known as some of the other Canadian guys that maybe play at his level, a little smaller town out there in BC, and university and all that kind of stuff. But he plays at a high level, can shoot, and he’s got size, so we were getting a little thin, I think with some of the injuries we incurred along the way in our original group, two of them impacted us, one was Kelly Olynyk and one was Oshae Brissett. I think both of those guys would’ve been either starting or right at possibly starting for us, and we were just getting a little thin up front with the size at 4, 5, maybe even the 3, and Conor would give us some reinforcement.

“He’s here, but he hasn’t been with us long,” Nurse said. “So using him (in Sunday’s opener) is maybe a bit of a stretch.”

QUICK HITS: Finding a prognosticator willing to go out on a limb and pick Canada coming out of Pool H at this FIBA World Cup is next to impossible. The closest we could find was a British journalist at the Guardian who predicted Australia would not advance past the first round stage. The prognosticator didn’t come right out and say Canada would advance but unless he was picking Lithuania and Senegal, then it would have to be Canada … Australia big man Andrew Bogut made it very clear in an interview he did with Marc Stein of the New York Times that he believes the US is beatable in this tournament. And Bogut and the Boomers, who upset the U.S. in a friendly just last week, the first U.S. loss in any game on the World level since 2006, may be one of those teams capable of taking them down when the games count for real. Bogut though says the Aussies have plenty of work before they can even think about a meeting with the States. “People forget we lost to Canada the week before the U.S.A. game,” Bogut told Stein. “We had an absolute stinker. I think we’ll have a target on our back, too, now. People will come at even us more now. The dangerous thing is to think we’ve accomplished something when in reality we still haven’t done anything at a major tournament. We have bigger goals than just winning an exhibition game.” Canada takes on Australia this morning at 3:30 a.m EST.