The city of St. Petersburg has already celebrated one EuroCup title. Two years ago, Dynamo St. Petersburg marched through the season unbeaten and beat BC Kyiv in the championship game.
Now Spartak St Petersburg are hoping to pull off the feat. It’s going to be a long, hard season for the club, though, in both Europe and the Russian Superleague.
Coach Oleg Okulov spoke to Jeff Taylor on behalf of FIBA Europe ahead of Tuesday’s EuroCup elimination round game against BC Odessa.
FIBA Europe: Coach Okulov, congratulations on your recent 86-83 win over Lokomotiv Rostov. How significant was that win?
|Anton Ponkrashov is one of the Russia team players that coach Okulov would love to see in his team |
Oleg Okulov: “That was a very important win, first of all in a psychological sense. We have a lot of players who have come from different clubs. Four players – (Rafael) Araujo, (Damir) Markota, (Andrei) Ivanov and (Konstantin) Nesterov didn’t play last year at their previous clubs. Then, when we finished our pre-season games and began to play official games, we had very difficult away games against some good teams. For example Ural-Great who had lost by only six points to CSKA (Moscow). So it was really good that we won against Lokomotiv.”
FIBA Europe: Considering the success of Russian teams in Europe in recent seasons, and the amount of money that is now spent at a lot of clubs on signing players, is Russia's Superleague now the best league in Europe?
Oleg Okulov: “I think that Russian league is the richest league in Europe but not the best yet. I think that our league is not competitive enough, yet."
FIBA Europe: What was the significance for basketball in Russia to see the national team win the EuroBasket over Spain in Madrid?
Oleg Okulov: “I think that we will be able to understand the significance of this win only in a year or so. To win is not enough. Much more important will be to improve Russian basketball after this great win.”
FIBA Europe: If you could have any of those players in your Spartak team, who would you choose and why?
Oleg Okulov: “If I could, I would take all St. Petersburg players back to our city – (Andrei) Kirilenko, (Anton) Ponkrashov, (Zakhar) Pashutin, (Nikolai) Padius.”
FIBA Europe: Now you have a chance to compete in Europe against a good Odessa team. What are your thoughts about the EuroCup and its importance for Spartak St Petersburg?
Oleg Okulov: “For Spartak, which didn’t play in EuroCups since 2001, this is very important. For me, it might be even more important because I’ve never played in it. My only experience is playing NEYBL – European youth league.”
FIBA Europe: What aspects of your team do you like right now, and in what areas does your team need to improve the most?
||The only thing that I like now is that all my players really want to prove that they are good and serious players
Oleg Okulov: “A team that completes its roster only a month before the start of competition cannot expect to be really perfect. We need to improve everything – offense, defense. We need to work hard to become really good. The only thing that I like now is that all my players really want to prove that they are good and serious players.”
FIBA Europe: Is it realistic to say that Spartak have a chance to win the EuroCup, just as Dynamo St.Petersburg did?
Oleg Okulov: “Every participating team has a chance. The question is how a team will use this chance.”
FIBA Europe: How big is the challenge for you this season as a coach compared to previous seasons?
Oleg Okulov: “This is the good test for my coaching knowledge and ambition.”
FIBA Europe: Are there any good Russian players in your team that you can highlight who have a chance to make a big contribution and really stand out this year?
Oleg Okulov: “I love my players and appreciate all of them. That’s why every player, not only Russian, can really stand out this season. But only if he works for 100%.”
FIBA Europe: Which clubs did you represent as a player?
Oleg Okulov: “I didn’t play for any professional team but I played from eight years old until 18 at basketball school.”
FIBA Europe: What about coaching? How did you begin your career and which coaches have you looked up to and learned from?
Oleg Okulov: “I started playing basketball in 1974. In 1975, Spartak became USSR champions. Since that time, the great coach Vladimir Kondrashin became my favorite coach. But not only him. I continue to learn when I meet different coaches because I’m sure that that is the part of coach’s job – you have to look for new things in basketball and try to analyze them.”
FIBA Europe: Are you happy to have foreign coaches in Russia, like Italy's Ettore Messina at CSKA Moscow and Israel's David Blatt as the national team coach?
Oleg Okulov: “This is really good if we have the coaches who can teach our Russian coaches. It is very important for all of Russian basketball.”