|01 June 2011|
Every week, fibaeurope.com collaborator Mark Woods talks to players with a single travel destination in mind this summer, Lithuania.
Next in the series is Sasha Kaun, the big man of EuroBasket 2007 champions Russia.
Mark Woods writes on basketball for a number of British newspapers as well as broadcasting for the BBC and Sky Sports. He is also assistant editor of mvp247.com and can be found on Twitter @markbritball.
Success comes in cycles. In basketball, as in life, rarely are the twin poles of joy and despair incessant.
Russia felt the elation when they swept to victory at EuroBasket 2007 in Spain, strangling the dreams of the hosts in the final.
Then, their power waned once more, back into the pack, wondering when the next surge would come.
|European basketball fans are long familiar with the spectacular Sasha Kaun slam-dunks, but Lithuania will mark the first time he'll hang from the rim at a EuroBasket|
Why not this year in Lithuania, Sasha Kaun asks? It is not a show of impatience from the CSKA Moscow centre, nor mere bravado.
Merely, he says, that there is no reason to discount the chance of a young squad which believes it can raise itself.
"Anything could happen," he states. Anything at all.
Mother Russia will march into the neighbouring Baltics in the hope of a bloodless conquest.
Theirs will be a team which is still headed towards its peak with totems like the Denver Nuggets' Timofey Mozgov approaching their best years.
Even if veteran duo JR Holden and Viktor Khryapa answer the call, the new generation, Kaun confirms, are motivated to surpass their predecessors.
"Especially considering that we didn't do as well as we wanted to at the (2010) World Championship. And we want to qualify for the Olympics next year."
The stars, perhaps, are aligning for Russia. Mozgov, liberated in mid-season from New York, has continued upon the promising break-out he enjoyed at last year's FIBA World Championship, announcing himself as a genuine NBA player.
"It's definitely helpful to have him getting that kind of experience," Kaun asserts. "He works hard. He's got better as he went along."
He might be joined by Andrei Kirilenko, the talisman of the triumph of four years ago, who has hinted strongly that he will re-join his country at a time when his decade-long spell with the Utah Jazz appears to be coming to an end.
"With him back, we're much stronger," Kaun adds.
Yet the biggest lift arguably arrived some months ago when David Blatt, the architect of '07, finally confirmed that he would remain as head coach.
Back for another run, chasing another European title, the Maccabi Tel Aviv playcaller has his team on side.
|EuroBasket 2007 champions Kirilenko, Khryapa and Holden have not yet confirmed they will be playing in Lithuania, but the great news for Russia is that the architect of the 2007 triumph, David Blatt, remains at the helm of the team|
"He's a great coach," Kaun confirms.
"He has so many good tendencies, coming from the USA but also being a kind of adopted European as well.
"He's had so much success over the last few years, both with us internationally and also with his club teams. You saw this season with Maccabi how well they did to get to the Euroleague Final Four and then to the final. We're happy to have him back."
Kaun has an easy kinship with Blatt. Now into his third season with CSKA Moscow, the 26-year-old is a rarity: a Russian who 'defected' to the West before returning home.
Educated in high school in Florida, and then at the University of Kansas, the Tomsk-born giant has taken precious insights from each stop.
"You get the best of both worlds," he reveals. "I built up my body by playing in America. European basketball was then different. I had to become even smarter and learn the game more, how to position myself on the court and defensively."
The NBA scouts will watch him once more in Lithuania. His rights are currently held by the Cleveland Cavaliers who might hold an interest in his services.
Kaun will not rule out a second instalment of his American odyssey. "It's something I always look into," he admits.
"This year would be tough with the potential of a lock out. You can play more here. But if there were ever an opportunity, I'd consider it."
Pushing himself front and centre at the EuroBasket would broaden his fame.
Russia - in a first round group that includes 2009 semi-finalists Slovenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Georgia - should expect nothing less than progress into the second phase.
One cycle at a time, Kaun counters. "There are a lot of good teams and you still have to win the game. Slovenia will definitely be strong. They have a good team. But you never know what to expect. Having the tournament expand to more teams makes it harder because you play so many games in a short period of time. You have to be ready."
If they weren't before, they are now.