Korstin Happy, Comfortable At Spartak

26 January 2010

Russia international Ilona Korstin watched Spartak Moscow Region capture the last three EuroLeague Women titles.

This year, she's trying to help them win a fourth.

Korstin was a long-time player at CSKA Moscow but with that club struggling financially, she decided over the summer it was time for a change.

She left for Spartak, a club with a glittering array of talent.

CSKA eventually lacked the pecuniary might to continue and folded before the beginning of the season, removing any doubts about the wisdom of Korstin's move.

Though Spartak lost on Sunday to UMMC Ekaterinburg in the final of the Russian Cup, Korstin and Co will still like their chances of capturing the European crown.

Under coach Pokey Chatman, they won all 10 of their Qualifying Round games in the EuroLeague Women and now Spartak are preparing for an Eighth-Final Play-offs tie with Lotos Gdynia.

Korstin gave this interview to Jeff Taylor of Basketball World News.

Ilona, it appears you have enjoyed a smooth transition from CSKA Moscow to Spartak Moscow Region. Is that true and if so, what has made it easy for you to play at Spartak?

Ilona: It's true that I knew, before I got to Spartak, almost all the players. With Marina Karpunina and Irina Osipova, I have played in the national team, and with Janel McCarville and Kathya (Ekaterina) Lisina at CSKA. And all the Americans I've met many times on and off the court in Russia and during the international competitions. I like my new team a lot. We have a very friendly and professional chemistry inside of the group. But it's true, too, that I don't have the same role and the same minutes at Spartak that I had at CSKA. Here, there are a lot of good players and in the beginning it was hard to find my place in the new group on the court, but now I understand better my role and my place in the team.

Tell us something about Ilona Korstin that not many people know. What is your favorite type of music? How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite author? Are you an avid watcher of movies?

Ilona: I like different types of music, depending on my mood. It could be R&B or rock or slow music. This year, I spend a lot of my free time with my teammates. I'm learning to play pool and I'm trying to learn Spanish, but I don't have a lot of free time. I like to read during the trips and watching DVDs. My favorite authors are B. Akunin, L. Forbs, D. Brown, G.G. Marces and there are more.

What player inspired you when you were a young basketball player?

Ilona: (Michael) Jordan

Svetlana Abrosimova (UMMC Ekaterinburg)
Korstin grew up playing basketball in St. Petersburg with fellow Russian Svetlana Abrosimova of UMMC Ekaterinburg.
You are from St Petersburg, just like your Russia teammates Maria Stepanova and Svetlana Abrosimova. They are both now UMMC Ekaterinburg players. What makes St Petersburg special to you and will you return to live there when you retire as a player? Also, did you ever consider playing college basketball as Svetlana did when she played at the University of Connecticut?

Ilona: I don't even know in which country I'll live when I finish my career, in Russia or in France or somewhere else. But St. Petersburg is very special for me because I have a big part of my family and friends there. And it's very beautiful and full of historical monuments, nice buildings and places of interest. I had the possibility of playing at an American university or to go into a professional team in France when I was 17 years old. With my parents, we made the decision to go to Bourges and I'm happy about that.

Okay, back to basketball in the here and now. Spartak has yet to lose a game in the EuroLeague Women, yet it does not seem that your team has played its best basketball of the season. How much better can Spartak play and what must happen for this club to win the EuroLeague ahead of teams like UMMC Ekaterinburg, Ros Casares, Halcon Avenida, Wisla Can-Pack Krakow and others?

Ilona: I think that in Spartak, the season begins slowly. Our team became better and better after each game and each victory. We are analyzing ours mistakes and we are trying to correct them and to became better and stronger as a team. I know that we did not show our best basketball yet, but I'm sure that it will come for the important games.

Not long ago, you were the face of the FIBA Europe initiative 'The Year of Women's Basketball'. Looking back on it, how important was that project for women's basketball and have there been any positive changes as a result of it?

Ilona: Of course this project was very important for women's basketball. It's true that women's basketball is less popular than the men's basket and that's why we tried to work hard all together to bring the attention on our sport. I can see the progress in Russia. Now ours games are on TV and we talk a lot more in the media about women's basketball. There are also the appearances of new basketballs schools in St Petersburg and in Vidnoje. In the Moscow Region, Shabtai (von) Kalmanovic created a huge basketball center with five girls and two boys different age teams. There are a lot the players from this center who are playing in the different ages with Russia's national teams.

Speaking of Shabtai, last November was a shock to everyone when the Spartak owner, CEO and general manager, Shabtai Von Kalmanovic, died tragically. Has the team dedicated this season to his memory?

Ilona: Yes, it was a very hard time for all of us. We miss Shabtai a lot. He was everything in this club and he did a hard and huge job to make the Spartak team the champion team, so of course we want to continue this champion tradition and to dedicate this season to his memory.

His wife, Anna Arkhipova von Kalmanovic, a teammate of yours on the gold-medal winning team at EuroBasket 2003 in Greece, has become executive director of Spartak following his death. How involved is she with you and the Spartak players?

Ilona: It's very hard for her to face everything with what's happened and she received a heavy load. But I think she is the right and best person to continue to make this club work because she knows everything about basketball like a player, coach and manager. She is doing very well.

Shabtai was also in charge of the Russian women's team. What will happen now to the national team, and do you expect you and your teammates to be among the leading sides at the FIBA World Championship in the Czech Republic?

Ilona: I don't know what will happen in the national team without Shabtai or who will take his place. But we are ready to fight in the Czech Republic (FIBA World Championship for Women) for the medals.

Something that I and other fans of the game find interesting is to see you on the court with teammates who are leading American players like Diana Taurasi, Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird, and a Latvian player like Anete Jekabsone-Zogota. Even though you compete against each other with your respective national teams in the summers, are you good friends at Spartak?

Ilona: Yes, we are good friends. We spend a lot of time together and like I told you before, we have a very nice chemistry inside of the group.

Chemistry helps a team win. What key factors, in your opinion, have allowed this team to be so successful the past three years?

Ilona: I think that we have a lot of very good players who know how to play with each other. Every person in this group has an important role and all that counts is the victory. And Shabtai was doing a lot of things to make the players happy and to make them think only about how to win the titles.

Ilona, there are lot of children, both boys and girls, that would love to play professional basketball one day. What advice would you give them?

Ilona: Work hard, be passionate and enjoy playing basketball.

Once you have stopped playing the game of basketball, and that is probably a long time since you are only 29, what do you see happening to Ilona Korstin? Will she remain involved in basketball as a coach or a club executive or might she do something completely different? Is there something that you have always wanted to do, but cannot until you retire?

Ilona: Of course I would like to stay in the basketball world because I know a lot of things about it and I would like to work with the people who want to make our sport more popular and more progressive. I have experience and knowledge to share. But maybe I'll be a housewife or I will do something completely different, you never know.

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