The interview: Jonas Valanciunas

Mark Duncan/AP

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This interview originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine

I’ve heard you have a great personality.
> Somebody lied to you. [Laughs]

OK. How would you describe yourself?

> Wow, these are hard questions. I’m funny. I’m friendly. Sometimes stupid.

Your second year in the league has been up and down. How have you grown as a player?

> It’s good that the year was up and down because you gotta learn from your mistakes. I had sad moments, I learned from it; I had good moments, and also learned from it. I feel I had a really good season for myself personally.

What’s the toughest part of being a young player who’s expected to be a big part of the future of this team?

> I don’t look at what I’m supposed to do in two years,
three years. I’m working today and trying to get better for tomorrow’s game.

You don’t have a vision of yourself in a couple of years as the big scorer on this team?

> Yes, everybody wants to be a scorer and to play good. If I keep doing the work I do now, everything is possible.

You’ve said going up against the other big men in the league is like dealing with animals. Who’s the toughest to shut down?
> [Nikola] Pekovic [of the Minnesota Timberwolves].

How have you progressed in handling those guys?

> I got big and I got strong. [Laughs] That’s what I did and now it’s easy.

> No, it’s not easy, but I got stronger, and it got easier.

How much stronger are you this year?

> What do you want, like percentage? My bench press? [Laughs] I don’t know, I’m stronger. That’s all I can say.

You started playing basketball at age nine. What got you hooked?
> I was always tall, so my classmates told me, “We [are] going to play basketball and basketball’s cool, so maybe you want to come.” I said, “Yeah, why not?” When you’re a kid you’re just playing; it’s not hard work.

What’s the worst part of being seven feet tall?

> You hit your head every time you go through the doors.

And when you’re out in public people must stare at you a lot.

> Yeah, you cannot hide.

Can you go on roller coasters?
> Some of them.

Which ones?

> The blue one. I can’t tell you which ones.

What does your mom think of all your success?
> Oh, she’s not much into basketball. If I’m playing good she’s happy. If I’m not, she doesn’t care. Most of the time she’s
concerned about my health, my life, not about basketball.

Do you notice your fame here in Toronto?
> Yeah, it’s nice when people recognize you and come to say hello. Or some good things, or bad things. Like, “You gotta do a better job on the post!” “OK, yeah I will do a better job.” I feel happy to see those people.

You have to be pretty excited about the playoffs. How did you guys turn this team around?

> We became a team. Not just basketball players. We became friends, everybody. We support each other, we cheer for each other, help each other. There’s a team mentality. That’s the difference.

How would you spend an ideal day off?

> Sleep in, first of all. ’Til noon at least. And then food. I love food. I love eating. Everything. I didn’t eat McDonald’s the whole year. That’s pretty good.

Any native folk dancing?

> When I was a small kid I did it.

Do you still know the moves?

> Pretty much. Basic.

Too bad we don’t have a camera.

> Not too bad no camera.

Having the Raptors mascot off the DL [he tore his Achilles in October], does that provide a spark for the team?
> I hope we’re gonna play like animals because of him.

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