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Kirilenko says World Cup Qualifiers windows exactly what basketball needs
MOSCOW (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019) - Andrei Kirilenko has thrown his full support behind FIBA's New Competition System and declared that national team games throughout the year are precisely what the sport needs.
No one has commanded more respect or received the adoration of fans in Russian basketball over the years quite like the FIBA EuroBasket 2007 champion and MVP, who also played in three Olympics and had a stellar 14-year NBA career.
Kirilenko set the standard for the sport in his homeland. Now, as the President of the Russian Basketball Federation, he wants to make the sport better in his country and around the world. He sees the national teams as being key to doing so.
While attending the recent FIBA Mid-Term Congress in Hong Kong - and before lending a helping hand in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Qualifiers draw - Kirilenko spoke at length about how FIBA's New Competition System provides the tools to help achieve the goals of the national team.
What is your take on FIBA's New Competition System launching in November, when it will see national teams play games over six windows to qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019?
For us it's very important and very clear. We never have a chance to see our national team during the season. The only time we see the national team is one month a year, about August. And of course, for the fans, it's a disaster when you see your national team only once. With the New Competition System, every three months, you're going to see your national team, your players in front of the fans. Different cities have a chance to see the national team. It's a good idea.
An emotional Kirilenko celebrates after Russia's EuroBasket 2007 title triumph
What does this mean for the players?
Players can reset their minds, taking time off from the professional season with their clubs, go to the national team and see everybody, their friends, fans of the country and you kind of reset your mind for the season and you come back to the club with new emotions. I don't see any problems and I think there are going to be a lot of good things.
The national team is like the crown jewel, the cherry on the pie. We'll have a chance to show our sponsors, 'Here we are. See this crowd, see every city in Russia is glad to have the national team and have a lot of support.'Andrei Kirilenko
Players have said they like the idea of not having to go through a rigorous training camp in the summer before playing important games as they'll already be in shape. What are your thoughts on that?
I agree with that, but you're still going to play in the summer time. But again, physically and mentally, it's going to be very refreshing for your mind to see your friends who you grew up with. For example, when I was playing, I had a lot of guys I played with in the youth national team - the cadets. We grew up and finally, we were in the (senior) national team. I played outside the country. So coming back to your country, you get to play for your fans, your family and your friends who get to come to the games. You come back and you have a chance to have some fellowship.
Does the new system make you want to come out of retirement and play again?
I'm not coming back (laughs). Too many injuries. Maybe in five years. I've got to get healthy.
The change is also hugely beneficial to the national federations because it will help them attract more sponsors.
Talking about partners, sponsorship - we have a lot of companies that help the basketball federation and again for us, it's going to be way easier for us to show what we are. The national team is like the crown jewel, the cherry on the pie. We'll have a chance to show our sponsors, 'Here we are. See this crowd, see every city in Russia is glad to have the national team and have a lot of support.' For our partners, it's going to be a good thing to see it throughout the year.
We want to make it to China in 2019. It's going to be a very nice two years. We call it 'The Road to China'. It's like the 'Silk Road' (smiles). It's going to take a lot of work, a lot of preparation. I think our team potentially can be there, should be there. Right now, we're at the beginning and I'm looking forward to it.
You can still relate to the players since your were one not that long ago. Do they need convincing to join the national team
When I was a player, I understood one thing: every player always wanted to come to the national team. The only thing that can stop you is that if you had an injury or something was not right in the organization. So on that second point, if a player doesn't want to come the national team because of that, then it's our [the national federation's] fault.
Injuries, we all understand. Obviously, you have to take care of your health. Nothing good is going to come of it if a player comes to the national team if he's not healthy. As long as I played, as long as I talked to the candidates of the national team last year, everyone said they are looking forward to it. They loved their time last year. Everybody enjoyed it. Even the guys that were hurt, they wanted to come (to the EuroBasket 2017 qualifiers). So I'm not worried about people refusing the invitation to come to the national team. I'm more worried about the preparation and all the little details.
And if Russia make it to China, what can we expect from the team?
I'm always trying to bring into my players' minds that it doesn't matter how you're going to play. What matters is how hard you're going to play. How much effort you are going to put into your game. You can lose. It's a sport. Sometimes a team can better than you on a particular night. But you have to give it your all. You have to hustle, you have to show your fans, 'Yes we lost but we gave everything.' That's the mindset I want to have for the Russian team. We have a huge country, a very proud country and that's what I want our players to be proud of. Play hard, play tough and again, this is sport so enjoy the game.