In an exclusive interview, the Khimki forward talked about the NBA Finals, the World Cup and Russia’s best basketball player.
– Khimki took a lot of threes in Game 1. In Game 2, the team was unstoppable inside. What should we expect in Game 3?
– More aggressive defense. We let UNICS score more than 95 points twice. That’s too much for playoff games. You can’t win with only offense.
– UNICS forward Maurice Ndour received the Defensive Player of the Year award before Game 2. Did that bother your team at all?
– Who got it? What award? See, I didn’t even notice, so I’m definitely not mad. Congratulations to Ndour, but in my opinion the best defensive player is on Khimki and his name is Charles Jenkins.
– Does Khimki have an advantage now after winning on the road?
– No, UNICS is a very serious team that can win on the road too. We’ll have an advantage against them if we play as aggressively as we did in Game 2.
– This UNICS – Khimki series matches the intensity of the NBA Playoffs…
– Yeah, I think the fans enjoy watching this match-up. Every game is competitive and exciting. That’s what the playoffs are about. I know everyone wants to see our series go five games, but we’d like to wrap it up as soon as possible and make the finals.
– If Khimki makes the EuroLeague, will you stay on the team?
– That doesn’t depend on me. The front office will make the decision about extending my contract, but I’d be happy to stay at Khimki. We have a wonderful roster and coaching staff.
– The NBA Finals are about to start. Who’s going to be champion?
– The Toronto Raptors because they have the best basketball player in the world, Kawhi Leonard. If he can’t end Golden State’s dominance, then no one can in the near future. It’s also worth remembering that the Canadians have home-court advantage and they’re very tough at home.
– When you played with Kawhi at San Diego State, did you ever think he would be this good?
– Of course, everyone knew it that played with him and coached him. He already had the leadership qualities and unbelievable toughness back then. Although it really was a surprise for a lot of people that the best player in the world was a #15 draft pick.
– Everybody wants to know if Kawhi Leonard smiled in college…
– Yeah, and everybody in his circle would say the same. He’s a very upbeat, interesting guy to talk to. He especially liked talking about modern history.
– Is Alexey Shved the Russian Kawhi Leonard?
– You can definitely make that comparison. Shved is the best Russian player in history. And he’s about to take his team to the finals, too.
– Better than Andrei Kirilenko?
– Have you thought about going back to the NBA?
– To get back to the NBA, I need a team that’s interested. If I have offers, I’ll definitely look at them. But I won’t pack my bags right away. I’m already 30 years old. I want to play, not just sit on the bench.
– The World Cup is in China this September. Are you going to watch it?
– No, it’s not that interesting to me personally. I get enough basketball during the season.
– You really don’t want to watch Ben Simmons, for example, play for Australia?
– I especially don’t want to watch Ben Simmons play…
– Have you ever had offers to join a foreign national team?
– A few years ago I did, but I didn’t take those offers seriously. Now my opinion has changed. If the Russian Basketball Federation invited me to join the national team, I’d accept.
– What do you do in your free time in Moscow?
– I watch shows and movies on Netflix, enjoy the Moscow sunsets and also really like good food. I love Shake Shack burgers and Papa Johns pizza!
– What about Russian cooking?
– I love khachapuri! Oh, that’s Georgian? I didn’t know. Then there’s only one choice: borscht!
– Have your parents been to Russia? Are they planning to attend the finals, if you get past UNICS?
– My mom was in Russia twice and really liked it here. But none of my relatives will make it to any more games this season, unfortunately. But I can feel the support of my family from thousands of miles away.