|Sergey Karasev in the dunking contest at half-time of the U18 All Star Game in Vilnius last September. Russia coach David Blatt was one of the judges |
By Jeff Taylor
Russia national team coach David Blatt sat back and smiled on a Saturday afternoon in September, during EuroBasket 2011.
He had just watched Sergey Karasev take part in a dunking contest at half-time of the U18 All-Star Game.
Before a huge crowd in Kaunas, Karasev wore a relaxed look.
He could have been in a gym on his own because he showed no sign of nerves.
The 2.01m forward enjoyed the moment.
Karasev showed he could not only elevate, but that he could slam the ball home with power and plenty of creativity.
Blatt and the other judges voted him the winner.
Karasev often makes spectacular plays, in both practices and games.
More importantly, he wins.
As a sharpshooter with Triumph Lyubertsy, one of the teams taking aim at this weekend's EuroChallenge title, Karasev has been lethal from long range, drilling nearly 36% (24 of 67) of his attempts.
In one very important game against Artland Dragons, a Last 16 clash on 21 February that Triumph needed to win to stay alive in the EuroChallenge, Karasev connected on six of seven shots from behind the arc.
He finished with a game-high 24 points and also led Triumph with three steals.
Triumph reached the Quarter-Finals and beat Mad-Croc Fuenlabrada to reach the EuroChallenge Final Four in Debrecen, Hungary.
Now Karasev has people talking for a different reason.
Blatt this week included the 18-year-old in Russia's preliminary squad for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Karasev is on a 16-strong list of players that also includes names like Andrei Kirilenko, Sergey Monya and Viktor Khryapa.
He has a chance to go to Caracas for the 12-team OQT, where three places for the London Games will be up for grabs.
"Sergey Karasev has demonstrated a high level of play," Blatt said, "and I want him to look better."
Karasev will have more opportunities to show the national team coach what he can do because after the Final Four in Hungary, he will compete in the Russian PBL play-offs.
Triumph exceeded expectations by clinching third place in the regular season, giving them an opportunity to play for the title.
Blatt, who coaches Maccabi Tel Aviv, said: "I plan to visit Russia in early May, watch a few play-off games in the Russian championship and then come back to Israel.
"Only in late May will I fly back to Moscow for the beginning of the first (national team) training."
Karasev will be in action on Friday when Triumph square off against Elan Chalon in the Semi-Finals of the EuroChallenge.