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Old 10-31-2012, 10:15 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Sun: Fans will love Valanciunas

.TORONTO - Just as Jonas Valanciunas began talking to a small gathering of reporters following practice on Tuesday afternoon, Raptors forward Amir Johnson wandered over and stuck a towel in his teammate’s face, the towel playing the part of a tape recorder.

“What’s it like playing with Amir Johnson?” Amir Johnson asked.

Not missing a beat, the 7-foot Lithuanian rookie answered: “It feels really great. He’s helping me. He’s an amazing player. He’s my favourite.”

Satisfied with the answer, Johnson smiled and walked away, at which point a reporter asked Valanciunas how he really felt about Johnson.

“He’s awful,” said Valanciunas with a laugh.

It’s obvious, despite the language barrier and the fact that he’s playing in a new league, in a new country, with entirely new teammates, Valanciunas is finding his way as a Toronto Raptor. Despite a slow start at training camp because of a calf injury, the Raptors’ 2011 first-round draft choice (fifth overall) has played well enough to earn the starting centre job as the Raptors’ season begins Wednesday night against the Indiana Pacers at the Air Canada Centre.

Valanciunas brings the Raptors an element they haven’t had in a long time, a big, physical, athletic centre, with skill and boundless energy. More than that, he promises to bring a presence, perhaps even a superstar presence if his progression goes as planned. Who was the last major star to play in this town? Vince Carter? Mats Sundin? Arguably, the only athlete to fit that bill presently is Jose Bautista. But Raptors coach Dwane Casey believes that Raptors fans, and Toronto sports fans in general, are going to embrace the big European in a big way.
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