By David Hein
J.R. Holden doesn't want to think about all the political talk sparked by his playing at the 2005 EuroBasket.
"I try to keep out of political situations," said Holden, Russia's American-born point guard who received a Russian passport in 2003 by order of Vladimir Putin himself.
"Of course it's exciting to play at a European Championships as an American. But people often forget that it's still about basketball - and I've been playing long enough."
The Bucknell graduate advanced gradually through the ranks of European basketball with stops in Latvia, Belgium and Greece before arriving at Russian powerhouses CSKA Moscow.
In his three seasons at Moscow, he led the team to three Euroleague Final Four appearances and three league championships.
|Jon Robert Holden|
The Russian powers that be decided to grant Holden special citizenship after three years - normally it would take five years - to strengthen their backcourt.
"I was really surprised. It was discussed for a long time but never seriously. But it's an honour and a priviledge that Russia wants an American to represent them," Holden said.
Before arriving in Vrsac, Holden played five games with the Russian team.
And he loves playing at EuroBasket.
"I play to win - whether that's street ball or a game of pool in the hotel. I want to win. And since the Russians chose me, I will give it my best for them," he said.
Zakhar Pashutin, who's played with the Russian national team since 1997 and with Holden for two seasons at CSKA, enjoys having the short American around.
"He's a very great player, and we needed a player like him. He gives us some more power on the break," he said.
When asked if it's strange that an American is playing for Russia, Pashutin remarked: "It's normal, why? Maybe we need him coming here so that young Russian players can see him. Maybe we won't need him in the future."
Russian coach Sergey Babkov added: "He's a very good guard, a versatile one as well. And we don't have any better in Russia at the moment.
But does Holden play Russian or American basketball?
"There are no differences. He plays basketball very good," was Babkov's answer.
Holden said playing with and against NBA stars at this tournament serve as a motivation.
And what if Russia were to qualify for the 2006 World Championships and faced the United States?
"Even though I don't like to think too far in advance. But if that were to happen, it would be great. Knocking out the Americans would be great."