DUI charge hurts Valanciunas, not Raptors

Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas has been charged by the OPP with driving under the influence in Wasaga Beach on Monday.

First: Jonas Valanciunas will not be suspended for any portion of the upcoming NBA playoffs.

Second: The Toronto Raptors centre is officially on his chance No.2 after being charged with impaired driving in Wasaga Beach, Ont., early Monday morning. Hopefully he uses it wisely.

He gets a second chance not because he’s as friendly and approachable a professional athlete as we’ve encountered in Toronto or anyone else.

He gets one not because the Toronto Raptors are finally, tantalizingly and surprisingly close to actually doing something meaningful for a city and fan base that has been stepped on for the better part of the last decade.

And he gets one not because being charged with DUI and allegedly having over 80 mg/100 ml of blood is an insignificant matter. It’s a very significant matter. Don’t drive drunk. No excuses. Don’t be this stupid again.

But Valanciunas gets a second chance because if we’re lucky, we all get at least one, and if we’re honest, most of us get all kinds of chances to distance ourselves from our mistakes.

The beauty of being 21 years old and a professional athlete is being 21 and a professional athlete. The downside is that when you do something dumb – not unique to being 21, but perhaps more likely for young men at the start of their 20s than at the beginning of most other decades – you earn yourself a digital tattoo that only time and a lot of dumb-free years will effectively scrub.

Hopefully that’s the only mark that gets left.

The details of the whole thing, which broke around supper hour on Monday, go something like this: The Raptors played in Milwaukee Saturday night, flew home after the game and had two days off to enjoy before returning to practice Tuesday.

Most of the team gathered Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre where the Raptors had three suites reserved. DeMar DeRozan threw out the first pitch at the Jays-Yankees game and it’s estimated as many as 70 members of the Raptors extended family were on hand – most players; the coaching staff; members of the front office and friends and family.

One of the few players who didn’t go to the game was Valanciunas, who opted to go with his wife and friends to the Georgian Bay beach community about two hours from Toronto. Wasaga has long been a popular getaway for Toronto’s tightly-knit Lithuanian community – there is an international Lithuanian softball tournament there every summer and a Lithuanian church as well.

According to the OPP the charge came at about 2:30 a.m. Monday morning after Valanciunas allegedly went through a drive-thru with open beer bottles in his car. The information was forwarded to police who subsequently tracked down the vehicle, investigated and charged Valanciunas with “exceeding 80 mgs.”

Valanciunas will have a court date in nearby Collingwood on April 22, which will be in the midst of the Raptors first-round playoff series. If the season ended today the Raptors would open the series at home for two games, beginning either April 19 or 20.

However it is all but certain that the court proceedings won’t have any impact on Valanciunas or the Raptors in the playoffs.

A DUI charge is a summary offence which means Valanciunas won’t have to appear in person unless there is a trial. The first appearance on the 22nd will be handled by a lawyer on his behalf and will be merely a formality with the case being adjourned until the defence can get the disclosure from the prosecution and consider their options from there.

These matters are typically fairly slow moving affairs in the Ontario court system, with a trial – should it get to that point – commonly a year past the offence date.

Based on the statement provided by the Raptors from their star second-year big man, Valanciunas certainly sounds like he knows he was in the wrong in the wee hours of Monday morning.

“I hold myself to a high standard and take my role as a member of the Toronto Raptors very seriously,” Valanciunas said. “I apologize to the organization, my teammates, my family and my fans, and regret any negativity this incident has brought upon them.”

Still, that’s hardly an admission of guilt and depending on the evidence against him Valanciunas may be able to wriggle out of the charge if he chooses to contest it.

Either way, the NBA or the Raptors won’t take any action against him until he either pleads guilty or is convicted. Precedent is for NBA players and coaches guilty of DUI to be hit with a two-game suspension, but that won’t come before next season at the very earliest.

In the meantime Valanciunas will get to keep playing in what has been a breakout season for him and for the Raptors, with a chance for a memorable finish come playoff time.

Unfortunately for the affable big man, not all the memories will be good.

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