Joneliunas gaining name and game recognition

<i>Inside Carolina</i>'s Clint Jackson provides an in-depth update on Paulius Joneliunas, the intriguing 2003 center prospect from Roanoke, Va. that the Tar Heels are keeping an eye on.

Paulius Joneliunas should be a familiar name by now.

He's the newest big guy from Lithuania and it didn't take long for the best programs in college basketball to hear about his talents. Four months after he stepped off a plane, he's got scholarship offers from a number of programs across the nation. He's already being compared to NBA star Vlade Divac, and besides being talented in hoops, the kid is a standout student as well.

"This is a kid who stepped right off the plane and scored an 870," said Roanoke Catholic head coach Dick Wall of Joneliunas' SAT score. "He's such a smart kid. He speaks four languages. He's a fantastic student."

He's also a fantastic basketball player, and it's quite evident that many college coaches agree.

The 6-10 skilled big man has scholarship offers coming in at an insane rate. And these aren't all cupcake schools either.

"So far, he's gotten offers from SMU, South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, Richmond and Northwestern," said Wall, who also happens to be a well-respected attorney in the city of Roanoke. "[Paulius] also has got offers from VMI, Radford, Elon -- and, oh, Texas, too."

"Some other schools are looking at him, too," Wall continued. "Besides Carolina, he's got Indiana, Marquette, Kansas, Boston College, NC State and Clemson, too. Clemson really likes him."

And what's not to like? The 240-pounder with ball skills is probably going to end up being one of the best three available big men in the senior class. He's been called a must-get for more than one school because they think he could be an immediate impact player at the high major level.

Carolina fans are aware of some interest from the UNC basketball staff ever since they missed on their top two big men targets in Brian Butch from Appleton, Wisconsin as well as David Padgett from Reno, Nevada. Wall confirmed the attention from Matt Doherty's crew and provided us with some additional news as well.

"They were at practice last week," Wall said. "Coach Doug Wojcik was here and they've just said that they're evaluating him. They've talked to him and they've sent him stuff, but like I said, they've not offered him at this point."

The 17-year-old big man was spotted behind the UNC bench on November 18th for the Heels game against Penn State. After the visit, Joneliunas had some positive impressions of the program, the arena and the feel of North Carolina basketball:

"He had a good time," Wall said. "He enjoyed the game very much and he really liked the place, but it's different when a kid is not American. It's not as impressionable when you don't know the history behind it."

As for a leader, it's commonplace to hear other college coaches mumble the words Lithuanian and Dave Odom in the same sentence. Most folks know that the former Wake Forest boss and current head coach at South Carolina has his eyes on Joneliunas. And is that enough to assume that South Carolina is the team to beat?

"I'd say that's pretty accurate," said Wall, who confirmed that the Odom-Lithuanian connection is certainly more powerful that most people are aware of.

"[Odom] has shown that he knows how to develop big guys," said Wall. "And he's been especially good with the Lithuanian kids."

Some published reports have speculated that Joneliunas may wait until after his senior season to select a school, in order to boost his national reputation. But Wall isn't so sure about that. It could happen then -- but it may in fact happen a little sooner.

"I'm not sure as to when he makes the call," said Wall. "I'm not sure when that will happen."

As for when he makes the call, that remains to be seen. But he's certainly already gotten the attention of many fans, coaches and basketball media outlets across the country. And he's done it in less than four months after stepping off of a plane from Lithuania.

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