By David Hein
Russian coach David Blatt may be quick to downplay his team's chances of winning a medal at the 2007 EuroBasket, saying his troops need to play together longer to really build a top-calibre side.
But Russian fans can definitely look forward to the future - as long as Victor Khryapa is part of it.
The 25-year-old forward has blossomed into one of the rising stars out of Spain, mainly because of his versatility on the court.
Khryapa, a reserve with the NBA's Chicago Bulls last season, has become one of Russia's main weapons as they have stormed to a 3-1 record in Group E and qualified for the quarter-finals.
He is Russia's second-leading scorer (11.0 ppg) and rebounder (7.6) and in a tie for second on
the team with 2.6 assists per game. He's also ranked second in the competition with 2.2 steals a contest and has also chalked up two double-doubles.
is a big reason why Russia have been so successful
"He's been simply fantastic. He has been great," said Blatt.
"He's working hard at both ends of the court. He's rebounding and defending - at different positions. He's scoring. He's active as one of the leaders for us on the court. And I think he's really been one of the outstanding players of the tournament so far."
The second-year Russian coach said Khryapa's improvement can mainly be attributed to his increase in minutes on the court.
"Playing time does wonders for players. When you get a chance to play and the coach believes in you and you get enough time on the court as to where you're comfortable, if you're a good player, you'll look good. And that's what's happening with him," Blatt said.
Khryapa, himself, really appreciates the support of Blatt, his coaching staff and the rest of the team.
"My game is not just in the post. I'm helping out everywhere I can, kind of all-around. Coach knows that and doesn't ask me to get 20 points a night. I'm not just a scorer. He's using me properly and I'm trying to do my best," he said.
The confidence of playing in the NBA - even if it's just 2.2 points and 1.7 rebounds in seven minutes of action in 33 games last season - has helped Khryapa as well.
"A player knows he's one of the best players in the world if he can play in the NBA. But when you come here, you have to know it's a different style."
And Khryapa has done a great job adapting, according to Russia's play-maker J.R. Holden, adding: "Vic's a good player. All the guys on the team know that and all the European teams know that. He's just starting to find his groove and I think he'll have a great tournament."