|25 July 2014|
EUROBASKET 2015 QR
|Timofey Mozgov will have an important role for Russia this summer|
Russia head coach Evgeny Pashutin is charged this summer with carrying out a vital mission with an eye on the future, beyond steering his team into EuroBasket 2015 from 2nd Qualifying Round Group G.
While failing to qualify to 2015's showcase tournament would be unthinkable for the European giants, it is equally crucial for Russia to secure a smooth transition from a multi-winning generation of players to a core that will successfully carry the weight of the flag in the years to come.
Aleksey Shved, who is still 25, came forward as the logical future leader of the Russian national team following the retirement from international duty of legends Andrei Kirilenko and Victor Khryapa and, most recently, Sergey Monya.
However, as Russia's hapless EuroBasket 2013 campaign proved Shved will need big support in this task, especially as sharp-shooter Vitaliy Fridzon, who is out injured this summer, has also put in doubt his future involvement with the national team.
Luckily for Russia and Pashutin, they don't come much bigger than the 2.16m tall Timofey Mozgov.
The Denver Nuggets center had pulled out of EuroBasket 2013, to belatedly complete the NBA's orientation course for rookies and train individually.
On Thursday night, the big man was back in a Russia jersey for the first time since the London Olympics and he looked ready to step up and fill the role that Pashutin, and Russia, have dreamt for him.
Mozgov looked focused and utterly committed to the cause and poured in a game-high 17 points to lead Russia past the Czech Republic, 75-68, in their first warm-up game ahead of the EuroBasket 2015 2nd Qualifying Round.
Dmitry Khvostov had 16 points and Dmitry Sokolov added eight points for Russia, who were playing without Shved, while Patrik Auda finished with 13 points and Ondrej Balvin had 12 for the Czech Republic in defeat.
"The hardest thing we had to do was contain Timofey Mozgov, who is Russia's main weapon on offence," Czech veteran Jiri Welsch admitted to news agency R-Sport.
"He's very tall, strong and technically skilled," Welsch added on the Russian center.
"But our big players, especially Ondrej Balvin, confronted him well and I'm very proud of Ondrej's effort."
Pashutin did not hide the fact that Mozgov will be the cornerstone of his offensive plans.
"We need to show a little more patience on offence, because sometimes we attacked hastily and it is worth waiting to wisely use Mozgov under the basket," the Russian coach commented after the game.
As for the big man himself, he hinted that the best is still to come.
"Everyone knows that the big men develop later than the average basketball player," Mozgov told R-Sport.
"I think that I'm just now, at the age of 28, understanding fully how to best use my body, hence the good results this year.
"However, I feel I can still improve, maybe another 15-20% percent.
"This game was of course hard because it was the first game after so much time of practice after practice," he added.
"Overall, we did not play bad and we got the win, which is always good.
"We will gradually find a common language on the court, but we are still far as a team from fully understanding each other all the times."
Mozgov and his team-mates still have time to work on their common language until 10th August, when they take on Switzerland on the road, in the opening game of Group G action.