EUROBASKET WOMEN 2013
|Ilona Korstin has been a popular presence for Russia in recent times|
By Paul Nilsen
When the defending EuroBasket Women champions touch down on French soil next month, nobody in the Russian delegation is likely to have a bigger smile on their face than Ilona Korstin.
The 32-year-old moved to France as a teenager before subsequently enjoying success as a player with Bourges and unsurprisingly, she is looking forward to hitting the hardwood in Vannes.
She said, "For me it's very special to play in France because I have a lot of people who are close to me there.
"This French national team is very strong, but I think we will have a good team and a good chance to play good and win.
"I like France, but also I want to win when playing against France," laughed Korstin.
When the action does get underway, it may feel slightly strange for Korstin and fellow veteran Irina Osipova, having witnessed some of their long-standing colleagues from a golden generation ebb away from the roster.
The legendary Maria Stepanova recently announced her retirement from national team duty along with Svetlana Abrosimova, who played with Korstin at Dynamo Moscow last season, whilst Olga Arteshina has been ruled out with an ACL injury.
With new coach Alfredas Vainauskas also now in situ and EuroBasket Women 2011 MVP Elena Danilochkina skipping the summer for personal reasons, Korstin admitted Russia are entering a re-building phase.
She agreed, "Yes, it's strange feeling, because a lot of experienced players are no longer in the team.
"This year, our team will look completely different.
"With a new coach and new young players, we can talk about the transition to a new chapter - that's for sure!"
"I don't know a lot [about] our new coach, but I can say that he is a very good specialist. He is a calm and thoughtful coach.
"I hope that together, we can be a good team!"
The loss of an iconic figure such as Stepanova leaves a significant void and Korstin expressed her pleasure at having shared so many moments with the center.
"Maria was very important for the national team" she said with huge approval.
"We won a lot of titles together.
"She is great and talented player and I appreciate playing with her for all those years."
|Ilona Korstin was an instrumental figure in assisting Dynamo Moscow to EuroCup Women glory last season|
When Russia topped the podium two years ago to land gold, it was an undeniably bumpy ride as former head coach Boris Sokolovskiy initially struggled to find his most effective line-up.
However on reflection, Korstin was only concerned with the outcome, not the journey.
"In 2011, we proved we could change our game and also the position of the players during the championship.
"This ability to change our tactics quickly helped us to get better.
"It happens that you sometimes play badly in tournaments, but the most important thing is to always win."
Whilst Korstin has pretty much seen and done it all in a wonderful career for her country and at club level, there have been few more madcap moments than just a few months ago when she was crowned a EuroCup Women winner with Dynamo Moscow.
In one of the most remarkable and dramatic games in the history of the competition, Korstin and fellow national team players Tatiana Vidmer and Nadezhda Grishaeva snatched the title.
They produced a stunning turnaround during the last remaining seconds to reduce the margin of victory for Kayseri to 74-70 in the second game, thus winning 136-135 on aggregate after a 66-61 win in the first leg.
"The EuroCup Women victory was one of the best moments of my basketball career," smiled Korstin.
"The way we won this game was crazy!
"We fought until the end and the last minute was decisive, as Kristi Toliver made a very important three-point shot before I got the chance to make a steal and lay-up in the last seconds."
She continued, "It was amazing to win this cup in the gym full of 11,000 Turkish fans.
"I really enjoyed playing with Dynamo this year and we had a lot of good memories together."
And, Korstin will be hoping there will be more good memories and another podium finish when Russia take to the floor in Vannes.
Meanwhile Coach Vainasukas has added Valeriya Musina to his squad after the guard impressed him with her performances for CCC Polkowice. She was named MVP of the Polish League Finals in a landmark and historic season for the club.
Finally, Epiphanny Prince is still scheduled to debut for the champions, although she is likely to arrive late for preparation.