April 17, 2003
Paulius Joneliunas, a native of Vilnius, Lithuania, signed a letter of intent to play basketball at the University of South Carolina today. Currently, he is a senior at Roanoke Catholic High School in Roanoke, Virginia.
During the fall signing period, South Carolina signed three individuals to scholarship papers to begin play for the Gamecocks in the 2003-04 season. Renaldo Balkman (6-7, 195, F, Tampa, Fla., Blake/IMG Academy/Laurinburg Institute), Tre Kelley (6-0, 170, G, Washington, D.C., Dunbar) and Brandon Wallace (6-9, 185, F, Aiken, S.C., Silver Bluff). (see below for further information on their team’s seasons)
Joneliunas, 6’10, 260 lb. center, who averaged 12.5 points per game and 10 rebounds per game, also blocked 94 shots. He chose USC over offers from Marquette, Texas, Virginia, SMU, West Virginia, Richmond and Hawaii. He chose USC because he felt very comfortable with the coaching staff, the Gamecocks’ style of play and Joneliunas wanted the opportunity to play.
“With the loss of Tony Kitchings and Marius Petravicius, next year’s team needed size and skill. In signing Paulius Joneliunas, we certainly took a step in the right direction as we attempt to fortify the post position,” said USC Head Coach Dave Odom. “We are excited to have Paulius Joneliunas as a Gamecock. We look forward to working with him in the next four years and helping him become the best he can be in hopes of improving the fortunes of our team. Having coached Darius Songaila at Wake Forest and Marius Petravicius here at USC, I know that Lithuanian born basketball players possess a certain level of competitiveness and expertise beyond their years. Our team needs both.”
Joneliunas’ Roanoke Catholic team lost to Benedictine in the finals of the Virginia Catholic State Tournament and lost to eventual champion Potomac School in the semi-finals of the Virginia Independent State Tournament. His team finished the season at 16-10. Playing in the USA for the first time this year, he speaks four languages and was a member of Lithuania’s Junior National team last summer.
“He is a very skilled post player. He is much more skilled than the average American that age,” said Roanoke Catholic Head Coach Dick Wall. “He is very quiet and thoughtful young man. He has worked hard this year to improve. The speed of the American game is a little different but his endurance has improved quite a bit.”
Joneliunas was selected first-team All-State. Joneliunas was also elected to the All-Metro team, and honored at the annual Kiwanis City-County banquet. At that same awards dinner, his team was honored to receive the Sportsmanship Award presented by the Western Virginia Basketball Officials Association. Proving his toughness, after losing several front teeth after being slammed to the floor after a slam dunk, Joneliunas re-grouped and finished the game against then-No. 6 Oak Hill Academy.
Playing a tough national schedule of both public and private schools, at Christmas, the Roanoke Celtics claimed the Holiday Hoopla championship earning victories over Group AA William Fleming and Group AAA Garfield and Osbourn from Northern Virginia. In January, they won the tournament championship at the Dell Curry Invitational in Charlotte, where the Celtics defeated North Carolina public school powers Garner and West Charlotte, as well as traditional private school power Charlotte Christian. January also included a trip to the Hall of Fame Tournament in Springfield, Massachusetts, where the Celtics lost to powerful Archbishop Malloy from New York City and then registered an impressive victory over traditional Catholic power Dematha, from Hyattsville, Maryland. On the plus side, the Celtics defeated state champion Benedictine at the Roanoke Catholic gym for the fourth year in a row.
Further information on USC’s three signees from the early signing period: Renaldo Balkman played at Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina and saw his team record a 40-2 record as the nation’s No. 1 prep school (he averaged 11 ppg and 8 rpg); Tre Kelley’s Dunbar High School team won the inter-high league in Washington, D.C. and lost to Gonzaga in the city championship; and Brandon Wallace scored the winning lay-up with less than two seconds left in the game, to win the South Carolina state title at Silver Bluff High School.
Most recruiting services ranked the South Carolina fall class in the nation’s top 25, including 23rd by The Insiders.com and 25th by the Official College Sports Network.com. Wallace is rated by most services as the top player in the state of South Carolina. Insiders.com said Wallace “is a fine shooter” and Balkman is “a great defender.”