Pecherov Welcomes The 'Czar' To Ukraine


Mark Woods

Every week, collaborator Mark Woods talks to players with a single travel destination in mind this summer, Lithuania.

Next in the series is Ukraine's forward-in-the-body-of-a-center, Oleksiy Pecherov.

Mark Woods writes on basketball for a number of British newspapers as well as broadcasting for the BBC and Sky Sports. He is also assistant editor of and can be found on Twitter @markbritball.

Czars haven't been in fashion in eastern Europe for almost a century.

The reign of the last holder of the title in Russia came to an unfortunate end.

Yet Ukraine has turned back the clock and chosen to give its new ruler free reign to oversee a transformation in the country this summer.

When Mike Fratello - long-time NBA playcaller turned American TV's ‘Czar of the Telestrator' - was appointed as head coach for EuroBasket 2011, it was a surprise inside and outside Ukraine.

The 64-year-old has 16 seasons of experience in the NBA but has won more plaudits for his television commentary.

The international arena will be a new sphere of influence.

Mike Fratello Ukraine
New Ukraine coach Mike Fratello (right) has recieved a warm welcome to the national team by everyone

"I think it was the right decision," declares Oleksiy Pecherov.

"If you look at all the other European teams, they make these decisions even earlier, two or three years before. They get good coaches. It helps them to play on a high level. You can see that with Russia, who have won a EuroBasket with David Blatt.

"This way, you can compete with different teams on the same level. It's a great thing for young Ukrainian players and coaches to have someone with that different kind of experience and insight and to learn from him."

Having spent four years in the United States before joining Armani Jeans Milano last summer, Pecherov might have to help with the translation.

The 2.13m centre knows he will definitely have to be a leader on a Ukrainian team which is appearing in its first EuroBasket Final Round in six years.

Kyrylo Fesenko will return after his fourth season with the Utah Jazz but the majority of Fratello's squad will be drawn from players based in their home country.

A lack of experience, Pecherov admits, will be the first bridge to cross. So will the trickiness of a first round group in Klaipeda which also includes Belgium, Georgia, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Russia.

The hard work will start when training camp opens with 21 players invited to try out.

"Of course, it's a process," he states.

13. Oleksiy Pecherov (Ukraine)
Pecherov wants Ukraine to make an impact on the international stage and, although they might not have tradition on their side, they sure have the motivation to succeed

"We still don't know each other yet. I'll meet the new coach next week and we'll have two months to get together and help each other. We have one goal and we're going to do our best to reach it."

Reaching the second round would guarantee Ukraine its best ever placing at a EuroBasket.

In four previous appearances, they have come no higher than 13th. There is no real tradition.

But, says Pecherov, there exists no lack of expectations.

"We've spent a long time on the outside of high level international competition. It's going to be a lot of motivation for all of the players and coaches to work hard and perform."

In 2005, Ukraine faced Russia in their first game - and lost. They would go home from Serbia without a win.

By a quirk of the draw, their neighbours will be their initial opponents this time around. It is hardly the start Fratello would have wanted in a group where the third and fourth qualifying spots look wide open.

Let the rivalry resume. "Games against Russia are always special because back in the day, we were one team within the Soviet Union," Pecherov outlines.

"We've gone our separate ways but we still have similar systems and you know a lot of the players from each other's team. But in Russia they have a financial advantage. They have a little better backing and they've been on a high level, more than Ukraine."

Money follows success, however. If the Ukrainians can make their presence felt, the benefits will be felt in Kiev and beyond.

A new look and a new system might give them the tools to enrich themselves in Lithuania.

Foremost, Pecherov proclaims, the Czar's troops must impose their rule on the court.

"It's going to be our target, to qualify from our group. It will be tough. We have good teams against us. But with a new coach, I expect high goals from our team. We'll do our best to get into the second round.

"The coaches and players know it will be tough. But we have to take one game at a time, perform our best and see what happens."

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