Before being recognized as one of the best centers in the world, Jonas Valanciunas shined in Europe as a promising teen who nearly led Rytas Vilnius to a 7DAYS EuroCup title. Hailing from the small town of Utena, Valanciunas joined Rytas and was farmed out to Perlas for his professional debut in 2008 at age 16. In the following two springs, he starred for Rytas at the U18 Adidas Next Generation Tournament, carrying the side to the 2009 championship game at the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four in Berlin, where it lost to FMP Belgrade. He rejoined Rytas in early 2010 and the team promptly won Lithuanian League and Cup double that season. The following season, Valanciunas announced his arrival in the EuroLeague with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds in his first game, against Fenerbahce Istanbul. Over 15 games in that 2010-11 season, the 18-year-old would average 7.7 points and 5.8 rebounds in 15 minutes per game. Selected fifth overall in the 2011 NBA draft, Valanciunas then guided Lithuania to the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2011 title, which amounted to a three-peat after the team's wins at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2008 and FIBA U18 European Championship 2010. Due to an NBA lockout later in 2011, Valanciunas opted to stay in Europe and showcased his stardom in the EuroCup.
Valanciunas debuted in the EuroCup with 5 points and 8 rebounds versus KRKA Novo Mesto and followed with 12 points and 8 rebounds against Azovmash Mariupol. His first EuroCup double-double -- 13 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks – came in Round 4 against Le Mans. After averaging 8.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in the regular season, he stepped up in the Last 16 with two double-doubles of 17 points and 10 rebounds while averaging 13.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. Next, he had 14 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks in Game 1 of the quarterfinals versus Donetsk to go with 14 points and 7 rebounds in Game 2. In Game 1 of the single-game semis, Valanciunas managed just 4 points and 0 rebounds before fouling out after just 8:27 minutes in a loss to Valencia Basket. He rebounded in the third-place game, grabbing 10 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks as Rytas beat Spartak St Petersburg. For the 2011-12 EuroCup season, he averaged 10.8 points while shooting 63.4 percent from field to go with 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks for an average index rating of 16.5. Valanciunas ranked second in the entire competition in rebounds, fourth in blocked shots and seventh in PIR – all as a 19-year-old. As such, he was chosen to the 2011-12 All-EuroCup First Team and named the 2011-12 EuroCup Rising Star.
What came after
In 2012, Valanciunas became Lithuania's youngest-ever representative at a major basketball event when he played at the London Olympics two months after turning 20. He soon joined Toronto and averaged 8.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks to earn a spot on the 2013 NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Over the next five seasons, he would average at least 11.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 0.8 blocks while playing 77 regular season games or more four times. Toronto made the playoffs regularly, but was eliminated three times by Cleveland and LeBron James. In 2016, that happened in the Eastern Conference finals, the club's deepest playoffs run until then. In February 2019, Valanciunas was traded to Memphis months before the Raptors won the 2019 NBA title. Although he lost out on the title, all of Valanciunas's numbers jumped after the move. He set career-high averages of 19.9 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.6 blocks in 19 games with the Grizzlies, including single-game highs of 34 points and 24 rebounds. In July 2019, Valanciunas and Memphis agreed on a three-year contract. He averaged 14.9 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.1 blocks in 62 games in the 2019-20 season before the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the NBA season.