Ryan Toolson:
I'd Go Crazy If Zenit Wasn't Winning

Zenit guard Ryan Toolson, named the VTB United League's October MVP, gave an interview to VTB-League.com and Sport-Express.

The first month of the regular season did not disappoint and featured several big upsets. Zenit has also surprised many by finishing the month as the league's only undefeated team. St. Petersburg's biggest weapon in October was American newcomer Ryan Toolson, one of Europe's deadliest shooters.

- I've never been named Player of the Month, though I won Player of the Week honors in Turkey, Italy and Spain, - says Toolson. - This is all new and feels really great. There are a lot of young players at Zenit. At 30 years I'm an old-timer. Now I feel a little younger (laughs).

But let's be clear about one thing: I wouldn't have won this award without my teammates. After all, I'm not the best in one-on-one situations. I can only play at an MVP level with the help of my team: when a point guard gets me the ball in my favorite spots and the big men set good screens. Yes, I'm good at hitting open shots, but that's something the whole team gets credit for.

- But do you feel any extra responsibility at Zenit?
- I knew about my future role on the offense before the season started. I'm definitely aware of the responsibility. But I don't look at it as a burden. Instead, it's an opportunity to prove what I'm really worth.

- Has the VTB United League matched your expectations?
- The competition here is quite good. A lot of guys could contribute in the NBA. There are stars on every roster, which is why there aren't any boring games. I like that.

- Which team are you most looking forward to playing?
- Probably Khimki. Zoran Dragic plays there. We used to play together at Unicaja. It'll be interesting to test myself against him.

- What motivated you to drop down a level? After all, with Unicaja you were in the Euroleague, while Zenit plays in the Eurocup.
- Last season, Malaga made it clear that my contract would not be extended. I'm not sure why. Over the summer, my agent found a lot of interesting options. Financially, the offers were very similar, and I made my decision based on the city: how well it would fit my family and whether or not there were international schools. St. Petersburg proved a perfect fit. It's big, modern, beautiful and comfortable at the same time. I'd never been here before, which is why I called a lot of people before making my final decision. One of the people I talked to was Jon Stefansson. We played together at Unicaja last season, but he had played for Dynamo St. Petersburg 10 years before. He told me St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful places in Russia and all of Europe. I've already seen for myself that he wasn't exaggerating.

- Has your family traveled with you throughout your career?
- It's an extremely important part of my life. If they can't come with me, I won't go. They have to make sacrifices for me and live in places where everyone speaks another language. So it's very important to me that everything at home is as convenient as possible.

- When you played in college, your grandma and grandpa would drive two hours to watch your play. Do your wife and children go to Zenit games?
- They haven't arrived in Russia yet. Getting a visa here turned out to be pretty difficult. As long as there aren't any more complications, our family will be reunited next week.

- How has the separation affected you?
- Don't even ask! It's almost a physical reaction, I miss them so much. I especially miss my twin daughters. They're one and a half. It's that age when they grow really fast and learns lots of new words. It's really tough to know that I'm missing this stage of their life.

- Even though it's so difficult without your family, you're playing incredible basketball.
- I joked about that with my wife. I told her: "Of course, I miss you, but maybe you'll wait another month or two?" I could use another MVP award (smiles). Honestly, if Zenit wasn't winning, I would have gone crazy. Basketball is my only consolation. As soon as I get home from practice, I'm surrounded by furniture and walls and all I can think about is how much I miss my family.

- I've heard that you work hard over the summer, including taking 500-1000 shots per day. Do you stick to that routine even at age 30?
- This offseason was an exception. The Spanish league was really long and I only got home at the end of June. There wasn't much time for vacation, plus I'd picked up a lot of aches and pains during the season. That's why I hardly went to the gym during the summer. But I didn't forget my shooting routines, although I didn't take more than 500 shots in a day.

- You hate to miss free throws. You're a perfect 15-15 so far this season. In college, your coach would take you out of games when you missed a free throw so you could calm down. Do you still have the same attitude about free-throw attempts?
- Why should it have changed? In my opinion, missing a free throw is stupid. No matter where you play, the distance to the basket is identical and no one guards you. It's free points. Shoot the exact same way each time. That's all there is to it. That's what I'm always thinking when I approach the line. It doesn't matter if it's the start of a game or the final seconds of a close game. I just try to reproduce the right technique. Usually I'm successful and then the outcome is very predictable.

- How many free throws have you made in a row at practice?
- All of them. I'm serious. I hardly ever miss.

- Do you know an exact number?
- I don't usually count. I know I've made 123 in a row. Maybe more, but I'm not sure.

- You're not the only basketball player in your family. Your cousin Andy Toolson played in the USA and Europe and your uncle Danny Ainge won two NBA championships with Boston, where he's now team president. Did your relatives encourage you to play?
- It's funny, but my uncle Danny once tried to convince me to give up basketball. When I was 10, I was one of the best runners in America for my age. He thought I would have a better chance to get a track and field scholarship and recommended I focus on that. But I'd always dreamed of a basketball career as a kid. His advice only made me upset.