Nilsen: Holden Unsure Of Russia Future


 Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various web-sites and publications across Europe. If you would like to contact Paul you can e-mail him here   

Picture the scenario, you get the chance to have a conversation with Neil Armstrong and beforehand you are tormented by the devilish thought that he might just be completely sick of constantly talking about that defining moment.

I mean how long do you seriously think you could wait before eventually giving in to temptation and just blurting out a question about walking on the moon like everyone else who probably meets him?

With that in mind, you can only imagine my dilemma when I grabbed the chance to interview EuroBasket gold medallist and star of the Russia National Team Jon Robert Holden recently.

Jon Robert Holden (Russia)
Holden guaranteed a spot for himself in European basketball lore when he sunk Spain in the final seconds of EuroBasket 2007.
I tried desperately to suppress any talk of ‘that basket' but in truth failed miserably. Sometimes it is just easier to accept that some people become synonymous with certain events or things in their life.

In the case of Holden of course it is an entire EuroBasket tournament. Indeed go to Spain and you might just find that in having denied Gasol and Co their first EuroBasket gold medal with 'that basket', the Spanish vocabulary had suddenly found a new swear word.

If nothing else, when mentioning ‘Holden' in Iberia, you might just get a disappointed shake of the head since Spanish eyes definitely weren't smiling back in the summer of 2007.

While the tears rained down in Spain, Holden reigned supreme. For a little further Eastwards, Russian ball fans celebrated wildly as the already decorated and well respected CSKA Moscow star was catapulted into the realms of basketball folklore.

Two years later and another EuroBasket is now looming but amazingly Holden is by no means certain to play a part - something that would be a great shame considering his exciting performances in a Russia vest during recent years.

Coach Blatt could yet hand the naturalised spot to the likes of Travis Hansen, someone he knows well from his club team Dynamo Moscow, while Holden himself might influence the decision by making himself unavailable anyway.

Either way, one thing is for certain. No matter how hard you might try, talking about EuroBasket 2007 in Spain is impossible without mentioning Jon Robert Holden and vice-versa - as I found out to my shame when I caught up with him.
FIBA Europe: Hi JR, you head for Poland later this year as holders of that gold medal. Do you think this puts more or less pressure on you to perform individually and as a team?

J.R. Holden: Honestly, I don't know if I will play this summer or not. I have played four years in a row and I am looking forward to possibly taking this summer off and spending more time with my daughter. However, it wouldn't be any pressure on us at all. We know it takes hard work and a little luck to win a Gold medal and we are prepared to do the hard work. As for me individually, I love to compete. There is no pressure playing basketball. Where I'm from, pressure is not having a job and your unsure of how your going to feed your family, pressure is not knowing if you can pay your bills to keep a roof over your head. Basketball, its just a game that I love to play, its no pressure at all.

FIBA Europe: At National Team level, what do you feel are the essential ingredients to success and winning medals and do you think there were any major or minor differences between reaching success in club and country basketball?

J.R. Holden: Essential ingredients to winning I think is team chemistry, defense and belief that you can compete and win every game. The difference between club and country basketball is club basketball you get an entire season to improve and grow as a team. Country basketball you only get a month, maybe 2 to gel as a team and compete for a medal. Country basketball has a different feel. You have all these elite players coming back from the NBA and their club teams competing for their country is amazing. Its so heartfelt and passionate. Its something I am glad I was given the opportunity to experience.

FIBA Europe: When it comes to EuroBasket you must get a real kick that your name is always the first on everybodys lips when they talk about that tournament in 2007 in Spain. In fact your contribution is what the entire tournament will always be remembered for. While we know you always give due respect to your team-mates, do you still think about it with a smile on your face or does that memory fade away?

J.R. Holden: Of course that is a very fond memory that I have. I will always treasure that tournament and what we were able to accomplish. We shocked the world! Its nice to be remembered. One day when I am done playing, I will look back and cherish all the special moments I had playing overseas. This one is definitely at the top of the list.

FIBA Europe: How much at that very top level in those medal winning situations with the game on the line is just about your instinct and how much is down to quick thinking in that moment?

J.R. Holden: I think basketball is a very instinctual game. However, in preparing to be the best player you can be, you have to be sharp mentally. When I prepare/work-out to get ready before the seasons, I do a lot of repetitive drills and other things so that when a certain situation happens in a game I have the instinct and the sharp mind to make the right move for me without hesitation. That is very important. You need both instinct and smart thinking to make good plays in crucial moments of a game.
FIBA Europe: People have spoken about this Russian National team having to evolve like any other but what do you think is the medium to long term future of the team beyond Poland this year? Also, have you got a date in your mind when you think you might hang up the sneakers - London
2012 Olympics would be nice!

J.R. Holden: Ha ha. I will probably hang up my sneakers before London 2012. I will probably play one or two more years with a club team and then I will probably hang up my dancing shoes :-). As for long-term success, I really think if Russia can keep a good core of 5-8 players together for the next 3 or 4 years that would be great. Most teams have players that have spent years and years playing together with their National Teams. I think that type of chemistry and camaraderie is priceless.

In Part 2 of our interview next week, JR reflects on the journey from College ball as a teenager to EuroBasket glory and tells us what it takes for rising stars to reach the top of their game.

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