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Musina: The real MVP, WNBA Draft night, the Vadeeva factor and family first
BELGRADE (Serbia) - The laughs, jokes and smiles from Raisa Musina make her stand out from the crowd at what remains a high stakes and pressurized environment at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2019.
With three podium steps still to be occupied and tickets to the coveted Olympic Qualifying Tournaments next year waiting to be snapped up, you could forgive the gifted Russian rising star for feeling the heat.
THE REAL MVP?
Instead, Musina is happily tempted into an opportunity to practice her impressive English skills and there's no better starting point than Udine two years ago, when she conquered the globe.
Russia famously won the FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup 2017 to end the long-running dominance of the USA, with the forward excelling in an absorbing Final triumph and providing the perfect one-two punch with Maria Vadeeva.
The pair were incredible and if the truth be told, the MVP voting was so finely balanced. In the end, it was her team-mate that got the thumbs-up. Any suggestion that it was actually Musina herself who was the 'Real MVP' was met with a nod of the head and a broad smile. After all, it wasn't only those adjudicating the voting and making the award who knew it was a close-run thing.
"We joked about in Udine and she was saying, 'I will be MVP' and I was saying 'No, I will be the MVP' and we were always saying the opposite to each other," recalled Musina.
"We were laughing with each other all of the time and we even had a bet as to who would get the award. The truth is that after the game when we were waiting to hear about it, she was so excited for me and I was so excited for her.
"I actually told her, 'Don't worry Masha, you will be MVP, you are the very best in the World' and the main thing was at the time of the decision, we both had the winners medal on our necks and we were so, so happy.
"It was really amazing and it allowed us to keep joking right until the end and looking back to this, I think that maybe Masha was awarded the MVP for her work in the whole tournament and so I can think of myself as being the MVP of the Final," she joked.
When told it was probably the most compelling case in FIBA history for a shared MVP honor, Musina was quick to suggest that only having one award or prize would not necessarily have been an issue.
She said: "We still live in the same room as teammates even now, so maybe we could have shared after all!"
WNBA DRAFT NIGHT
Having posted such amazing performances for her country at youth level, getting drafted to the WNBA was an inevitability. Although once again, Musina bursts out laughing when she recalled that after all the hype, she ended up overlooking the event and only catching the action by accident.
"Really, I have to be honest and tell you that on the actual night, I actually forgot all about the draft," she confessed.
"It was so strange because I slept and then I woke up at 5am in the morning, Russian time. I was asking myself why I was not sleeping and what was on my mind?
"Then, I realized. So, I opened Twitter and Instagram and I was then following everything. It was actually most interesting because I was excited to follow players that I had actually played against. Not only looking at what the situation was with myself or Masha (Vadeeva). For example, because of the FIBA Women's U19 Basketball World Cup in Chekhov during 2015, when we played against A'Ja Wilson of USA.
"However, my biggest support was still for Masha, because she needed to be higher than in the 11th place . I think everyone would agree with it - that she was not high enough. But then I think it is also amazing that she was taken by the Los Angeles Sparks. She had so many big names to play with, such as Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker."
Musina herself was taken in the Second Round by the Phoenix Mercury and while unlike Vadeeva she has not yet been able to make the roster to play, it has not diminished her appetite to follow her best friend Stateside.
She confirmed: "It is a big dream still for me to play in the WNBA and I think it is the same for any player. For me, it is also about increasing the number of Russian players, since there is only Masha who is playing there now from our country."
THE VADEEVA FACTOR
It's incredible to listen to just how supportive Musina is of Vadeeva. There is no sight of frustration or jealousy whatsoever of her Russian colleague and UMMC Ekaterinburg teammate is taking a massive chunk of the spotlight.
But when exactly was this seemingly unbreakable and bond both on and off the court actually formed? Was it at the famous Sparta&K M.R Vidnoje youth system?
"No, no, no," replied Musina smiling (again).
"We met when we were just 5-years-old in a training camp that was attended by her brother and my sister, who knew each other. Afterwards I played in a club for young players and then I went to Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje and she was there."
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At that point, you get lulled into a false sense of what actually happened. Because, while it is hard to believe seeing them now, they never chose to be major friends with each other. That only came later.
"Masha was actually very friendly with one of the girls there and then when I came, this girl became friends with me, but even after this, we were not that close to each other when we were practicing or playing," explained Musina.
"When we started to entering the adult or senior club team, we were still young and we had to live together and so you could say that we were put in the same room by other people.
"But, it has worked out very well ever since," she laughed.
Musina is not the first member of her immediate family unit to have played basketball - in fact, she is not even the first member of her family to play at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket. Her sister Valeriya, currently the GM of Polish Champions CCC Polkowice, competed for Russia at the 2013 edition
"My only dream when I was younger was to play with my sister and that is why two years ago, I went to CCC Polkowice," said Musina.
"It was also the dream of my father that we could one day both play together. But, it was difficult because she is older than me by 11 years. But, we eventually played alongside each other and even if it was for just one season. it showed that dreams can come true.
"I always wanted to be like her and nobody else. When I was with Sparta&K, they had (Candice) Dupree and (Diana) Taurasi and of course many of the best players in the world, but when it is family and you are young, I could only ever say that my sister was better.
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"She is also more than my sister. She is my best friend. I know her secrets and she knows mine. It goes beyond basketball and we just love spending time together when we can.
"It is family first for me all the time and I think it is also because I am the fifth child in my family," continued Musina.
"I have two sisters and two brothers. They give me great support and also my mom and dad are always watching and they even bring some nephews and nieces. I already have four nieces and three nephews and we are now also waiting for one more!
"At Ekaterinburg, there is a nearly a whole sector in the arena dedicated just to my family," she joked.
GETTING BACK ON TRACK
One thing that people do question about Musina is that she has found herself as a EuroLeague Women winner in the past two years, but buried way down the bench and struggling for serious minutes. For a player of her extraordinary talent, it is clearly a difficult balance to achieve.
However, in a rare moment of seriousness, she is quick to remind us that being a pro-player at such a successful clus is more than about the game days.
"I think everybody always wants to play more and especially if you are one of the younger players and have so much energy. I accept that the mentality is to always play, play and play some more," she mused.
"But you have to recognize the team and the level. You also have to look at the bigger picture in that you play more games in EuroLeague Women than most other teams - plus more games in the Russian Play-offs.
"Also all of the time you can improve your game against the best payers in the world with UMMC. Every practice is intense and these players are also role models - not just teammates. You learn from them about being the best in life and not just on the court," she added.
Whether you accept her viewpoint or not about life at club level. the one area that most people would agree, is that Russia as a country must get back on track. They have not appeared at a senior global event since London 2012, so not making Tokyo 2020 is a scary thought for such a heavyweight nation with such a rich tradition.
"It is very important for Russia to get back to the top level, but also it is important to recognize that we are still moving through an important generational change," insisted Musina.
"Yes, we have missed a couple of global tournaments. but we have some young and new talented players, with big room to develop further.
"That is why we can still use this chance at this tournament to get back to the very top level with a place in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament," she enthused.
And, with her both her and her big friend Masha alongside her, that one-two punch which worked so brilliantly at U19 level, may one day see Russia back where they need to be and making a splash on the senior world stage.