''I am sad a bit that Kazan has no interest in basketball''

National basketball team is back to the capital of Tatarstan 23 years later

''I am sad a bit that Kazan has no interest in basketball'' Photo: Maksim Platonov

The first match of the national basketball team of Russia in the international tournament did not cause excitement among citizens of Kazan. Perhaps, the rival was not good enough or the ad failed. Meanwhile, the Russians headed by their star Timofey Mozgov showed quite good basketball on the court of Basket Hall. Realnoe Vremya tells how the Russians did not leave any chance to the Hungarians and how the Russian coach ''took his revenge'' of Kazan for a weak organisation and other events of the first opening match.

Kirilenko put effort for Kazan

It has already been the second competition of the national team of Russia in this season. Last week, the Russians played the first friendlies in Saint Petersburg hit and miss where they first won against Finland (91-75) and lost to Israel in several days (71-79). In Kazan, our national team is preparing for the European Championship that will kick off in Istanbul on 31 August.

On 11 August, President of the Russian Basketball Federation Andrey Kirilenko already attracted citizens of Kazan with free admission to basketball. But there was not an effect of an exploded bomb and it did not create excitement without a large-scale advertising campaign – almost the same number of fans that the arena gathers during UNICS' matches were in the stands by the beginning of the match.

Meanwhile, citizens of Kazan have not seen the national team of Russia for long 23 years. The last time when Russians played here was in the early 90s – it was a friendly against UNICS. In other words, local basketball fans have never seen a real match of the national squad in an international competition. We can certainly say that Kirilenko brought more international basketball to Kazan than all the previous federation presidents in total.

We should also note that only Vladislav Trushkin whom Kazan has not seen wear the UNICS T-shirt after his return to the team joined the national team even if the match took place in Kazan. So we can say with difficulty that the local fans came to personally support the UNICS players.

Hungary did not show its level

As a leader should do, Timofey Mozgov scored the first points after a long combination on the perimeter. Soon Dmitry Kulagin entered the zone under the hoop. The Russians did with the ball what they wanted for some 3 minutes, and Mozgov sent balls to any liking to the basket. But the playing equipment obviously took offence at the guest team, the ball did not want to enter the hoop. But then Hungary scored the first three-pointer, then the second one. Captain David Voevoda and Allen Rosco put effort. Then big Adam Tot with his short-distance support under the hoop joined them. So the guest team did not let Russia increase the margin – 5-7 points. Vitaly Fridzon appeared on the court soon, and it seemed the stands revived a bit. The captain of the squad also added more action on the court. He increased attacks of our team, short shots with quite a decent accuracy percentage became frequent. As a result, the teams started the first break with a margin of 11 points in favour of Russia – 27-16.

Our guys continued to increase the margin in the second quarter as well. The ball was dashing about the arc around Hungary's hoop. However, not always the ball's movement speed yielded accuracy. Then Mozgov and Kurbanov returned to the court, and the business improved. Kurbanov started to play in earnest managing to both perform dunks and help his mate on his own – 31-18.

It seemed the game was clear in the 13 th minute of playing time of the match. Same Nikita Kurbanov decided to help Hungary and had two fouls in a row. When Kulagin repeated this ''feat'', Timofey Mozgov clearly threatened: ''Let's work… you are relaxed!'' and tellingly made a shot to explosive ovations of the Kazan audience – 45-28.

''Then it will be more complicated. We should not relax. The rivals prepared well,'' Timofey Mozgov shared his thoughts after the game.

''It is a good, needed victory for confidence, first of all. Then it will be more complicated. We should not relax. The rivals prepared well,'' Timofey Mozgov shared his thoughts after the game. ''We can improve the game. There is a lot to work on in attack, defence.''

The difference in the teams' level was felt in everything. Hungary's low accuracy percentage allowed Russia to take a lead with a two-digit margin without working hard in defence. Kulagin and Kurbanov entered the zone of Hungary without special opposition and shot spectacular balls having scored 20 points in total in the first half of the match. Our ball's movement speed was much higher. So Russia took the lead with a striking different by the big break – 49-35.

''It has been the best game now,'' forward of the national team of Russia Nikita Kurbanov told after the match. ''We already play team basketball better. It gladdens from a psychological perspective. What failed? Maybe losses while switching from defence to attack. Now we can't withstand all the 40 minutes. But we played aggressively in defence. It is seen we started to give the ball better – we used to play mainly individually. Team prevailed today.''

Bazarevich discontent about Kazan

''Just imagine, I have seen basketball for the first time in my life,'' a middle-aged man was hugging his friend during the break in the hall of the arena while invited DJs entertained the audience on the court. We should not say that only the audience that usually supports UNICS in domestic matches — but also there were many tourists, girls, mums with kids. It seems that not only basketball fans but also those who decided to make their leisure time diverse in the summer Friday evening.

The scheme of the game did not change a lot. The same ''+15'' remained on the scoreboard for almost the entire third quarter as well as the ball in hands of Sergey Bazarevich's players.

''I am sad a bit that Kazan has no interest in basketball,'' head coach of the national team of Russia Sergey Bazarevich complained after the game. ''I would like to invite people to the stands. Always there are complaints like we don't go because there are only foreigners in clubs. Your own team is here, please – come and support. I think people will enjoy.''

After the press conference, Bazarevich complained in a personal conversation with the press service of the Russian Basketball Federation: ''Kazan losses to everyone: Saint Petersburg, Krasnodar and Khimki.''

Meanwhile, the match continued. Kulagin and Mozgov, and Dmitry Khvostov at times, — the same heroes – pressed the defence of Hungary that snapped at times by Rosco and Perl's efforts. But the scheme of the game did not change a lot. The same ''+15'' remained on the scoreboard for almost the entire third quarter as well as the ball in hands of Sergey Bazarevich's players.

The big picture was same in the final quarter as well. Just Mozgov finally headed the game and started to score points on his own. Bazarevich finally made the spectators happy when 1,5 minutes left before the end when he fielded Trushkin from ''Kazan'' under explosive applauses for the second time in the match. Maybe the head coach was so offended by the Tatarstan welcome that decided not to spoil the local fans.

However, this moment remains symbolic because Vladislav did not manage to have any useful actions. But the national team of Russia had a confident victory – 84-69.

''I was glad they did not play egoistically, gave the ball. At this stage, it was important to show what we are working on. We need a lot to do.'' Photo: russiabasket.ru

Sergey Bazarevich, head coach of the national team of Russia:

We did not play evenly throughout the match. But many moments gladdened. We made 20 successful assists. And there would have been more if we had performed three-pointers better. I was glad they did not play egoistically, gave the ball. At this stage, it was important to show what we are working on. We need a lot to do. We need to be in shape somewhere, loads affect the physical state. And Mozgov will improve more.

You did not take timeout today. Did you do it deliberately?

I took one timeout. But, yes, sometimes I wanted the players to decide themselves on the court.

Is this competition important?

Look, Hungary went through the qualification very well, they won everyone. For us, it was a great rival ''on paper''. By the way, they played quite well. We offered many national teams to participate in the competition. Those who agreed came here.

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By Erik Dobrolyubov. Photo: Maksim Platonov
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