Raptors GM defends Jonas Valanciunas after impaired driving charge
Valanciunas is 'a great kid' who 'made some kind of a mistake,' says Toronto GM
The general manager of the Toronto Raptors defended the character of Jonas Valanciunas on Tuesday, the day after it was revealed that the starting centre had been charged with an impaired driving-related offence north of the city.
Masai Ujiri, the basketball team’s general manager, said that allegations of drunk driving are "not something we take lightly," but he said that Valanciunas is "very disappointed" about what has happened.
"I think he feels he let his teammates down, he let his fans down [and] the organization," Ujiri said on Tuesday afternoon, when speaking with reporters at the Air Canada Centre.
"He’s a great kid, you know. And I think he made some kind of a mistake," Ujiri added.
Ujiri said "the most important thing is it’s not going to happen again and he understands that."
It is not immediately clear if the team will suspend the 21-year-old Valanciunas.
But Valanciunas will be playing in the next Raptors game on Wednesday. "100 per cent, he’ll play tomorrow," Ujiri said.
The charge involving Valanciunas related to an alleged incident in Wasaga Beach, Ont., in the early hours of Monday morning. Police say they received a report of a vehicle going through a drive-thru with open beer bottles visible.
Police subsequently located that vehicle at a home on Oxbow Park Road. They allege that the driver had been under the influence of alcohol when he was in control of the vehicle.
An OPP news release issued yesterday, indicated that Valanciunas had been charged with having greater than 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.
Valanciunas released a statement later that day apologizing to the Raptors organization, his teammates, fans, his family, saying that he regrets "any negativity this incident has brought upon them."
As of early Tuesday afternoon, there was no mention of the incident on the verified Twitter account of Valanciunas.
But some Twitter users had tweeted messages referencing Valanciunas, the charge and the allegations.
A tweet directed at Valanciunas from a Twitter user named Jerrica Tyrene said she hoped he didn’t "let this mistake define him and show the world that he is much better than this."
Katie Hewat said "fans support you," and that Valanciunas will "get through this."
A few tweets were more critical.
"Make this a wakeup call," Dale Hamill tweeted on Tuesday.
Colin Dorr tweeted that "better is expected of you," adding that "the public has become fond of you" — the latter being all the more reason, he said, not to mess it up.
Others were curious what drew Valanciunas to Wasaga Beach, a beach town that is located about two hours from Toronto.
Uriji told reporters that Valanciunas had gone to the area to visit friends.
The Raptors are in the midst of closing out their regular season. Soon, the team will play its first post-season series in almost a decade.
Ujiri denied that the charge and Valanciunas will be a distraction for the team.
"I don’t think it will be," he said.
At the team practice on Tuesday, point guard Kyle Lowry was asked if he felt the situation would disrupt the Raptors’ team chemistry.
"No, honestly, I don’t think so," he said, when speaking to members of the media at the Raptors practice session on Tuesday.
"He apologized to the team, you know, and we talked about it as a group."
Lowry said the team supports Valanciunas.