Russia In Search Of Revival

07 September 2015
12. Sergey Monya (Russia)
Sergey Monya admits it has been tough coming to terms with Russia's recent lack of wins in major competitions

By Mark Woods

The bronze medal hangs in his parents' house. A souvenir but also a relic of when times were good, and success came relatively easy.

The Olympic Games of London are just three years past but for Sergey Monya, the warm summer night when Russia stood on the podium seems a lifetime ago.

In 2013, from delirium to disaster, the side - without David Blatt, their coaching talisman from 2012, and a host of established stars - could not survive the opening round of EuroBasket, with a 1-4 record. That meant no FIBA Basketball World Cup. No chance of quick redemption.

And now in France, the champions of 2007 stand on the brink of elimination, of missing the next Olympics, of falling towards irrelevance, despite coming agonisingly close in each of their three encounters thus far.

"It's been very difficult," admits Monya, now 32 and one of only four holdovers from 2012 here in Montpellier.

15. Andrei Kirilenko (Russia)
Monya  hopes new Federation president Andrei Kirilenko will help return Russian basketball to their glory days

"We lost our first two games by three. Our next one by two. It's been very hard for us."

"Three years ago, we took the bronze at the Olympic Games. Now we've lost all games. I don't know what's happened."

A silver medal behind the United States at the FIBA U19 World Championships for Women apart, it has been a relatively dry summer for one of basketball's global powers.

In search of a fresh start, ex-NBA player Andrei Kirilenko - a member of their Olympic roster - has been elected president. Other former internationalists have been drafted in for advice, suggesting a brighter future is within reach for the proud nation.

1. Andrey Zubkov (Russia)
Players such Andrey Zubkov hold the key for Russian basketball going forward

"We need some change," Monya says. "We've gone back. We must change things. Andrei is now with the Russian Federation and I hope he can change something."

On the court, they could readily use the flair Kirilenko injected. In narrow losses to Israel, Poland and Finland, opportunities have beckoned but not been converted.

However, there are still a number of positives to focus on ahead of their critical clash with hosts France on Wednesday. The likes of Andrey Zubkov and Andrey Vorontsevich have provided moments of encouragement. Vitaly Fridzon has standards he wants to maintain.

"Sometimes, we've played really well. Sometimes terrible. For example, we were up seven (on Finland) but gave them three points from the line and they quickly pulled back to us. You have to play smart. If we'd done that, we'd have won by 2-3 points."

And Monya, having experienced the loftiest of heights and no shortage of lows in a career that has spanned the globe knows that teams can move up as quickly as they fall. Kirilenko has promised to push for excellence. Down as they are, it might not be long until Mother Russia takes its turn at greatness again. A proud nation expects no less.

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