The Toronto Raptors players met with the media for the final time this season during locker clean out day. With the devastating game 7 loss behind them, the players look to the future, with bigger and better things on the horizon.
First, Raptors 21 year old sophomore center, Jonas Valanciunas reflected on yesterday’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets. Valanciunas began his playoff career on a tear, with three straight double doubles (averaging 14/14 in 33mpg). But did not accomplish another double double during the final 4 games of the series, and began to play less and less minutes whether due to foul trouble or being less efficient on the floor (averaging 8.5/6.5 in 25mpg).
“I feel okay, sad because we lost, but I gotta move forward. I have summer in front of me now. I have certain areas to get better. Just got to move on, national team, I have a lot of work to do this summer to get better for next year, come even stronger.”
Going into detail, Jonas detailed specific areas in which he will look to improve upon going into the offseason. Including working out with Houston Rockets’ hall of fame center and one time Toronto Raptor, Hakeem Olajuwon in the summer.
“Defensive skills, be able to protect the rim better, and my physicality, my running technique, strength. And then basketball stuff, low post, shots, basically everything,” Jonas chuckled.
“Yeah that’s the plan,” Valanciunas said of his plans to workout with Hakeem Olajuwon. “I’m still 21 years old so I don’t need a lot of rest. 2 weeks and I’m fresh again.”
And when asked if there was any player in the league he models his game after, Jonas answered with confidence that he just wants to be himself.
“Jonas Valanciunas, I just want to be myself. I have a lot of stuff to do, a lot of stuff to learn. The summer is to get better, to work hard. I want to improve my game, low post, I just want to be myself.”
The 2013-2014 season was considered a development year for the Toronto Raptors and certainly a development year for Jonas Valancinuas, who played a healthy 81-game 2nd season and made strides in his improvement both offensively, and defensively. So of course when asked, if he was nervous in his first postseason appearance, Jonas admitted that game 7 got into his head.
“That was two different games, intense, and crowd was different, attention different, different feeling. That was a great feeling, I can’t even describe how I felt in playoff games. But that was amazing, a good experience for me,” Valanciunas said of the difference between regular season and playoff games. “I need to work on my head, I need to control myself more. Yesterday I was nervous, I was maybe too excited to play game 7.”
The core group of the Raptors that along with JV includes DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, and Amir Johnson have developed a strong relationship both on and off the court, something the Lithuanian feels would be huge if the team returned for next season, likening the group to more than just teammates, a family.
“I think we did a good job this year to start, we built the start. We got to keep doing that, and go next year even further. Keep hard working, keep same attitude, we can do it,” said a confident Valanciunas.
“This group of guys was really good, there wasn’t just a team, there was family members. So it’s very important to keep the same attitude, keep the same way in the locker room.”