Georgy Zhbanov: Adapting At This Level Was Easier Than The Youth Level

Georgy Zhbanov: Adapting At This Level Was Easier Than The Youth Level

Georgy Zhbanov has played a valuable role at Nizhny Novgorod in recent games, averaging 13.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 8.7 assists to help his club clinch a playoff berth. One of the top contenders for Young Player of the Year, he spoke with about why he doesn’t care about stats, his love for the game and how happy he is about Nikita Mikhailovsky’s success. 

– You’ve put up crazy numbers in the last three games vs. Avtodor, CSKA and Khimki. What’s the secret?
– Nizhny Novgorod lost two point guards in Ivan Strebkov and Kendrick Perry to injury, so Zoran Lukic gave me the point guard responsibilities. I decided to seize my chance and I feel like I’ve shown what I can do. 

– Were you aware of your stats in the game with Khimki? Did you know you were close to a triple-double?
– No, I just fought for rebounds and passed the ball to open teammates. Generally, I don’t put any importance on personal stats. Of course, it’s nice to score a lot of points or record a triple-double, but winning is way more important. We weren’t able to beat Khimki. We lost in overtime. 

– Have you ever had a triple-double?
– I don’t think so. I was close during the 2016-17 season in the Youth League in a game vs. Avtodor-2, but I missed out by three assists. In any case, the game against Khimki was probably the best of my career so far. Getting a double-double at this level is huge. 

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– Do you think that coaches in the VTB League don’t give young Russian players enough opportunities?
– Everything depends on the coach. For example, Zoran Lukic is known for trusting young players. I’m really happy I’m playing for him.

– There are a lot of Russian players at Nizhny Novgorod. Why don’t other clubs rely on them as much?
– I can understand that, too. Every team has its own goals. First, we have a lot of talented foreign players in our league and we can learn a lot from them. Second, fans want to see exciting basketball. 

– You’re one of the top candidates for the Young Player of the Year award. How important is it to you to win? 
– Honestly, there’s only one reason I want to win the award: Prove to some of my former coaches that they were wrong when they didn’t notice my effort. This title would be a reward for all of my hard work. But it’s not the biggest goal. I care more about team results and success.

– Who would you say are the top three young players in Russia?
– I’d start with Nikita Mikhailovsky. The Avtodor coach and president have placed a lot of faith in him this season. Nikita gets plenty of minutes and looks really good. I’d also include Alexander Platunov, who’s having a very nice season for PARMA. The third one? I don’t want to compliment myself, but there aren’t many young players getting minutes. Andrey Lopatin and Alexander Khomenko from CSKA would probably also contend for my top three. 

– The Youth League Final Eight was held recently in St. Petersburg. Did you follow it?
– Yes, I saw there were a lot of players born in 1998 playing, guys I used to run into a lot. I followed Khimki-2’s Sergey Klyuev closely. We know each other really well. I also watched Nizhny Novgorod’s youth team. I wanted our guys to play tough against CSKA-Junior and I think they were able to do that. They played even with last year’s champions for two quarters. 

– Did the outcome of the Final Eight surprise you?
– Yeah, I’d say so. Before the final, I thought the Army Men would win. But I’m not surprised by Khimki-2’s victory. They had a more experienced roster than their opponent.

– Former Youth League player Egor Kurkin did some reporting at the Final Eight. Have you ever thought about what you’d do, if not basketball?
– My goal has always been to become a good player and right now I’m on track. I’ve never had a reason to think about what I’d do if basketball didn’t work out.

– You had a pretty smooth transition from the youth level to the senior level. How hard was it to earn a spot on the roster?
– As strange as it sounds, I had a much easier time adapting to this level than I did the youth level. Even in the Youth League, I wasn’t a star. Early on, I didn’t even get to practice with the senior team, but over a few years I eventually was able to earn a spot on the roster. 

– You were a small forward in the Youth League, but now you’re dishing out nine assists per game. Which position should you be counted as?
– I can’t answer that question myself. I want to think I’m a versatile player who can play at any position depending on the coach’s preference. Even if somebody tells me to play center, I’d agree. You need to fight for every opportunity to get on the court and enjoy the game. 

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– Nizhny Novgorod’s opponent in the playoffs will be one of CSKA, UNICS or Khimki. Which team do you think would give you the best match-up?
– There aren’t any “easy” opponents in my book. I don’t care which team I’m playing against. If you want to be the best, you have to beat everyone. You can’t be afraid of any team.

– Who would be in your all-time VTB League top-five?
– I’d put Alexey Shved at point guard. There haven’t been many players with that much pure talent in the League. Second, I’d take Dmitry Kulagin. I like his defense and creativity on offense. Victor Rudd would be my small forward. When he played for Nizhny Novgorod, he was unstoppable and had a terrific season. Andrei Kirilenko would definitely be my power forward. He’s a legend and the biggest star in Russian basketball. My center would be Othello Hunter. He can get to any loose ball. It’s too bad there wasn’t a spot for Stevan Jelovac. I’d love to include a big man with such a pure shot! 

– Did you watch the All-Star Game this year?
– Yeah, it was a great game. I was excited for my teammates Kendrick Perry and Ivan Strebkov. I was also disappointed when Nikita Mikhailovsky didn’t finish his alley-oop. That would have been a crazy play! But it didn’t drop and Mikhailovsky finished the game without any points. 

– You’re one of the most upbeat, positive guys in Russian basketball. Who do you think your main competition is in that regard?
– I don’t know about other teams, but all of the guys are fun like that on our team. But I’d still say I’m number one!