Shorthanded Russian Out to Defy Critics
|Aleksey is one of the few big-hitters available this time around for Russia|
It may sound weird but after medal finishes at their previous two events (EuroBasket 2011 and the Olympics), but Russia enters this year's EuroBasket as a massive underdog. Similar to a few other teams, the EuroBasket 2007 champions will be missing key figures in Slovenia and are perhaps the team that will suffer the most from the players' desire to take a summer off.
Firstly one of the main stars of European basketball, Andrei Kirilenko, decided to spend this offseason with his family. His decision was followed by a similar announcement from his best friend and long-time national team partner Viktor Khryapa. Aleksander Kaun, who was a crucial big man for Russia in London at the Olympics where they won bronze, was the next player to withdraw from this year's campaign.
But perhaps the biggest and the least expected blow for the 2011 EuroBasket bronze medallists came just six weeks away from Slovenia tournament tip off. Another center, Timofey Mozgov, signed a new deal with his NBA team, the Denver Nuggets, and decided to focus on pre-season preparations with the club.
To make things worse, Andreyi Vorontsevich had to pull out shortly before the event due to injury.
This left head coach Vasily Karasev without five crafted and experienced leaders both on and off the court, making the 2013 edition of the Russian national team one of the most experimental in their history.
However, the coach can still rely on the likes of Sergey Monya, Vitaliy Fridzon and Anton Ponkrashov, who will lead the squad once again, just like they have been doing during the past six years. These three players should become the conductors of the success the Russian national team has enjoyed in previous years, winning three medals in their past six major tournaments.
But the star player on this team will be a different guy. Extremely gifted but often inconsistent and unpredictable in the past, Aleksey Shved has evolved into one of the best Russian players of recent and will carry a lot of pressure on his shoulders in Slovenia. With his ability to create as well as score, Shved is expected to be the main facilitator for coach Karasev.
The coach will also give decent playing minutes to some of Russia's biggest up-and-coming prospects, particularly to his son Sergey. Karasev junior was on the team roster for the 2012 London Olympics but he failed to gain a place in the rotation. However, this time the newly acquired Cleveland Cavalier will likely get a lot of trust, as well as demand, from the coaching staff and will need to prove his ability to play at the highest international level.
Vasily Karasev's main concern will lie at the center position as neither Dmitriy Sokolov nor Aleksey Savrasenko have played for the national team since 2009. Karasev has stated his desire to play with a small line-up, using Semen Antonov at the problematic spot. The head coach also admits the team has faced a lot difficulties with the roster but it does not mean the Russian national team will stop being extremely competitive and aim for medals of any kind.