Ukraine: Growth Spurt Leads Pecherov To Basketball Court

03 September 2005

Just five years ago, nobody knew about the young Olexsiy Pecherov, who had dreams of becoming a professional footballer.

But fast forward to the present day and an occupation change, sparked by a sudden growth spurt, has seen Pecherov become one of the key men of Ukrainian basketball.

"I never thought I could become a basketball player," the 19-year-old confessed. "I was even invited to (Ukrainian football club) Metallist Kharkiv's youth team.

"But one summer I grew about 30 centimetres and it appeared harder to play football.

"So when one trainer offered me the chance to change my occupation, I agreed." 

Pecherov became famous throughout Ukraine in 2003 after the qualification games for the FIBA U20 European Championships in 2004.

At the time, he played for Polytechnic Kharkiv and the following summer the Ukrainian youth team won the Global Games title in Dallas with Pecherov scooping the MVP prize.

So it seemed logical when national coach Gennadiy Zaschuk called the 2.10m center into the national team.

"It was a great honour for me," he recalled.

"I like the atmosphere in the squad. It was easy for me to adapt because the senior players helped me in everything.

"I feel that my coach and partners trust me and this is very important. So, right now, I feel comfortable with myself."

A number of the national team members won silver medals at the World Universiade in Izmir two weeks ago.

Pecherov was among those players and stressed that this success came as a massive boost for the whole national team.

"Everyone is in good mood, so right now we're ready for a harder challenge," he declared.

Ukraine will compete at EuroBasket 2005 in Serbia & Montenegro, with the yellow and blues hoping that they can make a bigger impact than in their previous attempts in 1997, 2001 and 2003 when they failed to advance beyond the preliminary rounds.

"This year our team is younger so if we qualify for the next round, it will be good for us," Pecherov said.

"The problem of capturing a place in the top six, which gives an opportunity to play at the World Championships in Japan, is not vital for us.

"More important is to be able to qualify for the 2008 Olympics at EuroBasket 2007 by enhancing our teamwork.

"I can't compare this team with the one of 2003 because I'm only a rookie. Nevertheless, I think we are on the right path."

Ukraine face Italy, Germany and Russia in Group A at EuroBasket and Pecherov feels that the competition between the four teams will be tight, while highlighting Stanislav Medvedenko as their key man.

He said: "All of the teams are good enough. Italy were silver medallists at Athens 2004, while Germany are led by Dirk Nowitzki.

"And of course the Russian team now has three NBA players in Sergey Monya, Viktor Khryapa and Andrei Kirilenko.  

"Last year at the qualifying tournament, our team was led by Serhiy Lischuk.

"This year Stanislav Medvedenko can become a real leader. I think his experience should help him to lead us at difficult moments.

"Also, Andriy Lebediev and Olexander Rayevsky are ready to be starters at least." 

Many Ukrainian experts believe that Pecherov should be one of the players to watch at EuroBasket.

Despite not having much court time he has already attracted the attention of NBA scouts while playing for BC Kyiv last season. He is unconcerned by this lack of match practice and insists he will be looking to come out of the tournament with his game enhanced.

He concluded: "I shouldn't bother about thoughts regarding whether I play 20 or 30 minutes per game or not.

"The very thing I care about is to work hard in practice and to prove that I'm worth a place on the court.

"Every game should be a challenge for you. Every rival team has the player you should overcome. At the end of a game, my achievements must be better. 

"I think in the future, I will have a chance to play against great guys."

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