2008 Men's Olympic Basketball Preview: Russia

As I mentioned yesterday I'll be alternating Olympic previews with At the Hive. You can check out all of the posts in both of our sidebars. In the meantime, see what's up with Russia.

Population:
140,702,094

Size in Comparison to a US State: About 1.8 times the size of the US

Suffrage: Universal at 18

Interesting Fact: There is still a part of me that is afraid of Russia. I blame Red Dawn, Ivan Drago, the Hunt for Red October, a Simpsons episode where the USSR reformed, Spies Like Us, Rambo III, Top Gun (subtle but there), and the Soviet Union's presence in numerous NES games - Ice Hockey, Soda Popinski, Rush 'N Attack (under the radar) - and of course Vladimir Putin. To be honest I don't even feel comfortable mentioning Putin. Let's move on...

Recommended Reading:
Burnt by the Sun - Change of gears here, as this is a DVD. Still this one has it all - Whtie Russians, Red Russians, Stalin, murder, suicide, and more.

World Rank (Courtesy of FIBA): 16

Qualified: European Champion

Dream Match Up in Beijing: Lithuania or USA - Catch up with a former part of the Soviet Union or relive the Cold War. That's a win-win.

Dream Match Up That Did Not Qualify:
Is Chechnya a country?

Recent News: Read this article about J.R. Holden and Becky Hammon - the first two American citizens to compete for Russia in the Olympics - and tell me there isn't some bad blood out there to this day. In lighter news, Andrei Kirilenko will carry the Russian flag in the opening ceremony. Yao Ming and Manu Ginobili are the other NBA players with that honor for their respective countries. And Dirk Nowtizki might get the nod as well.

Russian Roster

Sergei Bykov - Known for his "excellent three-point shooting, great court-vision and passing skills" Bykov is tapping into his potential as his prime approaches. He can play the 1 or the 2 and is a microwave type player (instant offense off the bench) for his club - MBC Dynamo Moscow.

Vitaly Fridzon - A lot of websites have called him a late bloomer and FIBA Europe went the extra mile in identifying him as "
probably the most intriguing Russian shooting guard prospect". FIBA also called him a warrior and Fridzon has a reputation as a relentless player. Though turnover prone at times he

J.R. Holden - He's a made for TV movie waiting to happen. Holden grew up in Pittsburgh, played ball at Bucknell, earned paychecks across Europe, caught on in Russia, hit the winning shot in the 2007 European championship, and made Time's List of 100 Olympic Athletes to watch. Read enough stories about Holden and you'll come across the word "traitor" frequently, although usually as a means to start debate. I enjoyed Chris Sheridan's profile, which included Holden's take on his status as an American in Russia,

"All I do is play basketball as a Russian. I pay taxes in the U.S, I live in the U.S, I do everything in the U.S. except play basketball. So I'm a traitor because I'm over here making a living? What about all the businessmen who travel overseas to do business? So I wouldn't see it that way at all." - J.R. Holden

I only have one question - What exactly does a person have to do to play for a country beside the one where he or she was born?

Sasha Kaun - Did not start playing basketball until high school but still managed to earn a spot at the University of Kansas. That's right - Rock Chalk Jayhawk! DraftExpress explains that Kaun "never developed quite the way some people expected after his excellent sophomore season". Still he's got a solid game down low, can finish with either hand, understands defense, and in general holds his own in the paint, if not beyond. In closing he was drafted 56th by the Sonics and then traded to the LeBrons.

Viktor Keirou/Victor Keyru - Unlike a lot of players on this roster Keyru was not part of the squad that captured gold at EuroBasket 2007. Meanwhile, other than the fact that he can play the 2 or 3 and calls Trajan Langdon a teammate on CSKA Moscow, there just is not a lot of info out there about Keirou.

Viktor Khryapa - Currently injured (torn ligaments in ankle) but will travel to Beijing and could possibly play.

Andrei Kirilenko - Remember when AK-47 was a fantasy basketball stud? While he's not on the level of Carlos Arroyo in terms of Jeckyll and Hyde play for his national and NBA teams, there is a good chance Kirilenko will make Jazz fans say,  "Ahhh now I remember why Utah gave him so much money" at some point during the Olympics. Meanwhile, there's a tendency to focus on NBA guys when analyzing these squads. But in Kirilenko's case, much like Dirk Nowitzki, he really is the man. The Russians will go as far as he carries them.

Sergey Monya - Much like the next guy on this list Monya tried to make it with the Trail Blazers and it did not quite work out. To his credit Monya was a first round pick and he did see some time in the NBA. But this talented leaper has been described as a passive underachiever that drifts through games. Not good.

Nikita Morgunov - Morgunov signed with the Trail Blazers on a couple of occasions but never played in a game, wasting away on the injured reserve instead. He's definitely had his moments in Europe and plenty of experience on the national team as well. Morgunov is at the point where "aging" and "slow" are apt descriptions of him.

Zakhar Pashutin - He has the most tenure of any player on the Russian National Team and has been called the best 2-guard in Russia. Yet he rarely plays for his loaded club team. Any guy that was at one point a thorn in the side of the Army Club and lived to tell about it, deserves some respect. Still "best 2-guard in Russia" and 11th man don't equate.

Petr Samoylenko - He's the captain of the Russian National Team, yet refuses to do interviews. Though Samoylenko won't impress anyone on offense in general and the half-court game in particular, he will look to run and is a mad man on defense.

Aleksey Savrasenko - As a player it is never great to be described as "a little bit mechanical and not so quick". Despite that Savrasenko has transformed into a defensive force in the paint. He's also an international man of mystery, as he holds a Greek passport, complete with an alternate name - Alexis Amanatidis. Finally, like many European players, Savrasenko has an interesting professional career. Switched teams, loaned, moved, it's hard to keep up with it all.

Andrey Vorontsevich - He turned 21 about 2 weeks ago, is a 6-8 forward, won the 2008 Euroleague and 2007 Russian Cup with his club (CSKA Moscow), and after that it gets fuzzy. Seriously, do the research. You'll be up against stuff like this. It's a little frustrating unless you enjoy his photo album. And for the record at least one person finds him cute. So, yeah...

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