From the other side. Ilona Korstin on basketball from the stands

Hi everyone!

More than half a year has passed since I finished my basketball career. My life has changed in a lot of ways. The basketball sneakers have been left in the corner and now the many medals and trophies on the shelf are all that remind me that not that long ago I played for the Russian national team.

Working now for the VTB United League, I look at the basketball world from a completely different angle and have learned a lot of new things.

As I spend time at the VTB United League, my range of responsibilities continues to grow. In addition to helping promote the League, I now take part in negotiations with sponsors and work on outreach programs for veterans and orphaned children. We’re also filming a new segment on Rossiya-2 (Russian TV), featuring a unique ranking of each week’s top plays.

I’ll admit, I didn’t expect that just one minute on television would require so much work and time! First, we select the top segments, then write the script. After that, it’s off to the dressing room, then the filming, which lasts from an hour and a half to two and a half hours. It all depends on how the lights and cameras work and how well the work on the script goes. On the other hand, I’m always playing with the ball during shoots, taking shots, spinning it on my finger and even showing the director how to pass the ball accurately.

I like the whole TV-basketball process. It helps me keep up my basketball skills a little and doesn’t allow me to lose my feel for the ball. It’s also really interesting!

I recently participated in a press conference at the Kremlin. VTB United League President Sergey Borisovich Ivanov openly released the League budget and budgets of all the Russian clubs in the League. The budgets attracted a lot of interest and the event was quite lively. And judging by fan comments on the internet, discussions about money in Russian basketball (and elsewhere) are always going on.

As you know, the VTB United League regular season ended on April 1 and I’d like to share my biggest impressions from the season.

First of all, I was very happy about the level of excitement and competition. There were a lot of dramatic games that were a pleasure to watch. The games between Group B leaders, CSKA and Khimki, were especially memorable. Both teams fought hard and demonstrated excellent basketball, but Khimki overturned expectations to win both games. Do you remember how, in the final seconds of the second game, James Augustine performed a true miracle? Many people will remember his steal and winning shot at the buzzer to defeat the Army Men for a long time.

As for the Russian teams, it’s very nice to see that all 10 Russian clubs made the playoffs. Spartak St. Petersburg and Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd literally slipped in at the last moment, but that doesn’t take away from their accomplishment. I’m confident that they will fight to the end in the playoffs.

I hadn’t been to St. Petersburg for a basketball game in a long time, which is why I was very happy about the opportunity to travel to the Spartak – UNICS game. I really like Sibur Arena, the St. Petersburg club’s new home arena. For me, it’s now the best basketball arena in Russia. Spartak has a very rich basketball history and many legendary players and coaches are linked to this team. Currently, Spartak is having a tough time and has to deal with a lot of problems, but the club nonetheless does everything it can to continue to carry on the basketball traditions in the city on the Neva.  

Another visit to a VTB United League game, this time to Volgograd, also provided a lot of great memories. Krasny Oktyabr’s current basketball arena has nothing in common with St. Petersburg’s Sibur Arena. In Volgograd, you get the impression that the teams are playing basketball in a theater, because the court is next to a stage. Roman Skvortsov and I did the play-by-play for the Krasny Oktyabr – CSKA game and sat right at court level. The spectators move freely around the Trade Union Palace and sometimes come down to the court. I was somewhat amused when a fan came up to me a few minutes before the start of the game and said that his daughter had prepared a poem for the team and wanted to read it over the microphone. I had to call over the emcee and help the little girl perform.

During the broadcast, meanwhile, different people came up to us and tried to talk to us, ask about something, get an autograph and take pictures even though we were live on TV. It was pretty amusing…. At least until a guy practically tried to sit on my knee for a picture! That was too much and I had to take off my broadcaster headphones and call security.

But overall, the Volgograd basketball arena creates a great atmosphere. People really care about the team and support it from the first to the last second.

We shouldn’t, however, forget about women’s basketball. Right now the Euroleague Final Eight is underway in Yekaterinburg. I’m headed to the Urals for the semifinals and final as a Russian ambassador of women’s basketball. FIBA invited me to participate in their project aimed at developing women’s basketball and I couldn’t help but agree. But I’ll share all the details a bit later in my next blog post.

For now, I wish the best for all of the Russian women’s teams that will battle for the title of Euroleague champion!

Ilona Korstin,
VTB United League deputy general director