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Shved shooting Russia back to relevance
ISTANBUL (FIBA EuroBasket 2017) - Aleksei Shved vividly remembers the bitter disappointment. The explosive guard was part of Russia's disastrous FIBA EuroBasket 2013, where they won just one game to exit at the Group Phase.
It was a major letdown for Russia after hopes were high of a basketball renaissance following a podium finish at the 2012 Olympics. Things turned even worse after Russia endured another EuroBasket catastrophe two years ago amid upheaval in Russian basketball.
Shved was not part of the 2015 letdown, but he felt the pain nonetheless and steeled himself to make amends. After a gloomy period, a motivated Russia have been playing inspired basketball, winning 6 of 7 games to setup an intriguing Semi-Final with a determined Serbia.
Shved has been the catalyst behind Russia's stellar campaign averaging a tournament-high 23.7 points and 6.7 assists as the engine of his team. With Shved controlling the game and forming a dangerous combination with star big man Timofey Mozgov, Russia crushed a talented Croatia in the Round of 16 to quieten sceptics and confirm they are the real deal.
Shved admits the past five years have been tough for Russia and says the team hopes to bury those ghosts with success in Istanbul. "That's what everybody - players, coaches, fans - wants (to get a medal)," he says. "Last time we played good was in 2012 and the last two EuroBaskets we didn't get out of the group. I hope this EuroBasket will be good for us."
The 28-year-old has been playing with purpose during continual scintillating performances in the tournament to thrust himself into the MVP conversation. Shved's three-point shot, which at times can be streaky, is at a very solid 39 percent, making him almost impossible to stop.
Able to find the right balance between scoring and setting up his teammates, Shved is seemingly entering the peak of his powers and continual brilliance in this tournament could help earn redemption for Russia.
A determined Shved says he still remembers the disappointment of 2013. "It adds more motivation but it's not just 2013, it's also 2015," he says. "However, we don't need to think about winning a medal right now, we need to think about beating Greece."
Explaining Russia's transformation, Shved believes personnel changes and a more united bond within the team are working wonders. "The last two EuroBaskets we missed two or three players," he says. "We've changed coaches a couple of times and we seem to have gotten better. We have come together and are playing as a team. These tournaments can be hard when you have just one or two months to prepare. But we feel like we have prepared well and we need to take it game by game."
Shved's dynamic performances would have undoubtedly attracted interest amongst the slew of NBA scouts attending FIBA EuroBasket 2017. Shved was a wanderer during his three NBA seasons, where he played for four teams lacking any continuity for realistic success.
His best run in the NBA was at his final stop with the New York Knicks in 2014-15, where he averaged 14.8 points in 16 games but declined re-signing with the Knicks, preferring to return to Europe.
NBA offers could be sooner rather than later but Shved remains tightlipped about his plans for the future. "I don't think about it right now (NBA)," he says. "I don't want to talk about things people are saying, I'm just thinking about EuroBasket right now."As usual, Shved looms as the key player in Russia's Quarter-Final against a revived Greece, who are peaking at the right time after a sluggish start. Greece's sudden turnaround has been sparked by their dynamic backcourt of dynamic guard Kostas Sloukas and veteran playmaker Nick Calathes.
Against formidable opponents, Shved's hands will be full and a shootout could occur with the red-hot Sloukas, who has hit 10 three-pointers in his past two games. Undaunted by the challenge, Shved says he feels in good rhythm and believes a couple of days off will be beneficial for Russia.
"I feel good right now," he says. "It was good to have two days off between games. It's good for us, it's hard to play every day or so. I feel great and can't wait to get out there."
In typically understated fashion, Shved isn't into hyping the contest but is well aware of what is at stake. "We want to win but it will be hard," he says. "They have good players and it will be an interesting game. We have practiced well and we will see what happens."