Basketball In Europe
|Andrei Kirilenko was a class act for Russia at the EuroBasket 2011, returning with a bronze medal|
Injuries kept Andrei Kirilenko off the court at the end of last season with the NBA's Utah Jazz but the superstar was fit, and ferocious in Russia's line-up at the EuroBasket.
CSKA Moscow were certainly impressed because they have signed the 30-year-old forward to a three-year contract with an NBA return option.
Kirilenko, who grew up with CSKA Moscow before leaving in 2001 for Utah, is one of the high-profile players to have signed with a European club during the NBA lockout.
CSKA president Andrei Vatutin, who watched Kirilenko lead Russia to a bronze medal at the EuroBasket, said in a club statement: "We understand perfectly all the risks of his possible departure but we knowingly take them.
"In my opinion, there are no minuses in inviting Andrei.
"Even if he leaves the team in a month or two - depending on his desire - Kirilenko will play several games, and his participation will add to the interest toward our team.
"I am sure that most of the fans as well as me are anxious to see Kirilenko in CSKA uniform.
"If the lockout finishes, and Andrei decides not to chase an NBA contract, our perspectives become even better."
A member of the all-tournament team at the EuroBasket, Kirilenko says all of the money he earns in Russia will go to charity.
"I'd like to mention also that all the money earned in Russia I will send to Kirilenko's Kids charity foundation," he said.
"The foundation will help the children hospitals and charity-schools, sport schools, sport veterans and the basketball players who became disabled persons."
Coming Back Home
Kirilenko is as excited to be returning to CSKA, just as the club's fans are no doubt thrilled to have him back.
As long CSKA have Kirilenko, they should have one of the best teams in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague.
The club also now has Serbia captain Nenad Krstic and point guard Milos Teodosic on the books.
"I am glad to be back to the team where I spent the years of adolescence," Kirilenko said.
"It's a pleasure to have a chance to play for Russian fans, my friends, relatives.
"CSKA has a very strong team, great coach, excellent players.
"It's great when the highest goals are ahead of you.
"It's especially interesting to play under the load of responsibility.
"I am sure that we are able to solve any task together."
CSKA coach Jonas Kazlauskas, however, sounded a note of caution.
"My opinion," he said, "you should not take the NBA player during the lockout.
"If they can leave you, you don't know what to expect.
"And only the weak teams can take this kind of step.
"At the same time, every rule has its exception, and Kirilenko is the exception.
"Andrei is the star of Russian and world basketball, he means for his country as much as (Arvydas) Sabonis for Lithuania, Pau Gasol for Spain, (Dirk) Nowitzki for Germany.
"He grew up here, he played for CSKA, for Russia.
"I think thanks to his EuroBasket participation, he has remained in good shape.
"Surely, we will need time to embed him into the team system.
"Hopefully, one or two weeks will be enough."
Vatutin added that Kazlauskas took the final decision to sign Kirilenko, who in 2007 was the EuroBasket MVP and FIBA Europe Player of the Year.