Earlier this week, I posted a profile of Andrei Kirilenko over on HoopSpeak, but there was plenty of stuff that didn’t make it into the post, so I’m posting the full transcript of Kirilenko’s side of the conversation here. He talks some more about his reading habits, who he looked up to as a young player and also sheds some light on Rubio’s development from his perspective.
On how he got started with basketball: When I was in the first grade, six year old, seven years old—we have a different system in Russia—I was in a regular elementary school and my first coach, he came into my school and he picked three tall guys and asked them if they wanted to start coming to play for the team. Two guys said, ‘No,’ I said, ‘Okay.’ So I started playing with the team.
[The sports team] is kind of separate from the school—you play with guys from different schools together. After three years in elementary school, in the fifth grade, you go to the sports school, which is all those guys getting together in the same school. Same as girls. The girls go into the same class. So I had a lot of girls who later played on the national team.
On making the step from amateur to pro: We don’t have that much, it’s not developed like it is in America in Russia. So we go from the junior [level] to the sports class and from the sports class we go right to playing professionally. So we don’t have that middle step like in college.
I’ve always been saying: Our team had been playing good [at the sports school level] and I always said, “We’re all going to go to the next level, to the professional teams,” but one of the guys said, “You know what? Probably just one of us is going to the next professional level.” He was right! One guy went and started playing professionally.
The rest of the guys start doing regular jobs. I don’t mean regular jobs, I mean different jobs. They don’t play basketball professionally. They play, but it’s not professional. They still play together in the town, in St. Petersburg, in a league, but they have different jobs. I have my close friend who is playing in that league and he is the manager of a foundation [in Russia]. He’s scoring like 30 points [a game].
I think it’s kind of a problem for the Russian basketball league because we don’t have the middle step. Because the kids, like fourteen, fifteen years old, they have to go to the professional teams right away and they don’t have those three, four years where they get stronger, where they get mature so they can be able to compete against men. Here, you have a great step in the NCAA where the guys get to go from being a kid to being a really mature player who can represent himself at a high level.
There’s always talents, but even with LeBron, it still took him a year to get strong and get used to it. Deron [Williams] was a great example, even coming from college. He still needs to take one or two years to develop.
On his role models: I watched a lot of basketball, especially Russian basketball. At that time Sabonis was a great example for everybody, but he was a center, so we didn’t really look at centers. Centers were put aside [laughs]. But from American basketball, Michael Jordan was, of course, number one at that time and we all watched those games, in the Finals against Utah, those crazy shots and of course everybody wants to be like Michael. I never tried to make idol, but I always admired the greats. He was the best player possible.
On whether he was ever a shoot-first kind of player: I actually never scored many points, that’s never been my thing. I don’t think I’m that [much of] a sharpshooter to score 30 points a night. When I was young I always had different tournaments and we had a lot of tournaments back to back to back so we played a lot of games and one tournament, they call you the best offensive player and the next, the best defensive player. And it was always like that. It was a strange feeling.
I guess since the beginning of my career I always tried to play defense and offense the same way. And I wouldn’t say I’m a great great defensive player. Some of the games, everything falls in the right place and you get steals, but some of the games you’re horrible on defense. I mean, you can tell. I can tell. Some of the games I’m like, “They call me a good defensive player but I’m ashamed of this.” And same with the offense. Some of the games you have a great performance. Not scoring-wise but being an offensive threat, being active, being aggressive. And some of the games you’re just running on the side watching the game like a spectator. It’s just a matter of the game.
On taking the games as they come: I think I’m pretty good at this. I’m pretty good at understanding at a point in the game what’s not good, so I’m not going to it. If I miss two or three shots in a row, I would not take the fourth shot. I would probably try to create a foul, try to go inside and finish with a layup. So I will choose the right opportunity. I would shoot it, but it’s going to be a way open shot. It’s not going to be a risky shot. I’m pretty sure I’m good at choosing the right situation if I’m not doing something good.
On whether he tries to impart his approach to the game to younger players: You know, I’m not trying to impart it because everybody have different opinion on it. And I think every opinion has a shot. I think some of the guys feeling that if they missed three shots, they have to continue shooting. Some of the good shooter, like, say, I played with Kyle Korver. And I’ve seen him miss three shots in a row and I would say, “Keep shooting.” Because I know how it can click. If it clicks, you’re going to make like five or six shots in a row. Everybody have to know their weakness and their strength. So if you know you’re a sharpshooter and you prove it in the practice and you prove it in the game, you have to keep shooting. If you know you are not that great, you can make it but if you feel like it’s not your night, then don’t do it.
A lot of times, I use my shot in the beginning of games—like a couple shots—just to let my defensive player know that I’m going to shoot it and if you’re not going to close, I’m going to shoot the ball. If you make a couple shots, it’s going to be disaster for him because he has to get up and contest the shot somehow. If you make first shot, he has to contest very close and that’s the great opportunity to pump fake and create something out of it. [Laughs] If you miss first and second shot, then okay, no more pump fakes, no more shots. Go drive, go cut.
On how Rubio is developing his game: Everybody knows their weakness, everybody knows their strengths and Ricky knows his best side and he’s playing from the best side. He tries to create, he makes a lot of passes, but he’s forgetting that people are learning him and studying him. If he’s not going to take a shot, they’re just going to step back [and let him] take a shot. I think [his] decision is the right decision: start taking those shots, start being dangerous with the ball. And I’m not saying 3-point shots but you have to present that threat and I think it’s the right decision. I mean, you’re never going to make it if you don’t look at the basket. You have to look at the basket and make a decision if you’re going to shoot it.
When I explain that one of my favorite classes in college was a Russian Lit class with Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc.: We have the same classes. You have to read it. I don’t really like it. It’s classic. I always read three, four books that are fantasy, that I like, and one has to be a classic. You don’t like it, but you have to read it just to take your medicine. So at least you understand what you like, what you don’t like, why you don’t like it. So you know what people are talking about, why they’re talking about it. You can make a judgment then. If you don’t read it, you can’t judge it.
On if he reads in English: It’s all in Russian. I’m a little bit lazy. Reading English, it takes me four times longer. I can get the same books in Russian. Why bother?
On Dostoevsky in the original versus in translation: It’s not gonna help you much. It still sucks.
On his reading tastes: I like fantasy. I don’t know why. I like detectives. From the American books, I really like Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code. I know it’s fiction but it’s such a close fiction to fact. It makes you think that it could be true. Right now I’m reading a Russian author. It’s fantasy, but it’s based on historical facts, so some of the facts you’ve heard about, but you don’t really know [everything]. It’s a Russian series [with] different authors. There’s 30 or 40 books in all different times and different historical events. It’s always different, but it’s like a puzzle. Pretty much the same characters, but different times. You recognize one guy from the future, one guy from the past.
On Dmitri Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033: Yeah, I like it. That was an interesting concept, because we all love the Russian subway, especially Moscow and St. Petersburg subways, and that’s based in the subway. People never leave the subway.