Avtodor Saratov made news on Monday, becoming the first team to make a change at the head coaching position as Andrea Mazzon was replaced by Evgeny Pashutin. It’s the 10th time Avtodor has switched coaches in three seasons, which is a record for the competition.
Pashutin is a big-name hire for the Saratov club. The Russian continues to lead all coaches in games (187) as well as wins (128) in the VTB United League. He’s also coached in every season, dating back to 2009. Pashutin’s previous stops have been at top clubs–CSKA, UNICS, Lokomotiv-Kuban–where he’s always reached the postseason and never been fired in the middle of a season.
Pashutin’s coaching debut in the League was a good one as the Army Men opened against historic rival Zalgiris. Legendary centers Vladimir Tkachenko and Arvydas Sabonis participated in the festivities, with a sold-out crowd and celebrities courtside in Moscow. CSKA did not disappoint, dominating the visiting Lithuanians to the tune of a 90-74 victory.
Zalgiris got revenge in Kaunas, dealing the Army Men their only defeat of the season, 67-63. At the Final Four in Kaunas, everyone was hoping for a rubber match between the two teams. But UNICS crashed the party, stunning Zalgiris in the semis, before running out of steam in the championship.
Not surprisingly, Evgeny Pashutin relied on aggressive defense and a limited rotation of his most experienced players in the final. The strategy worked. CSKA smothered UNICS’s offense in a 66-55 victory, winning the first-ever VTB United League title.
Over the summer, CSKA decided to part ways with Pashutin. The front office soon regretted the decision as his replacement, Dusko Vujosevic, did not live up to expectations and only lasted a few months in Moscow. Meanwhile, Pashutin enjoyed a very successful stint with UNICS. During his two years in Kazan, he built a winning reputation, guiding the club to a EuroCup title and its first-ever EuroLeague appearance.
UNICS was also a contender in the VTB League. The Tatar club advanced to the semis in Pashutin’s first season, ultimately finishing in 3rd place. The following year, UNICS made it to the championship game vs. CSKA. The Army Men boasted an all-star lineup with Kirilenko, Siskauskas and Shved that season. UNICS kept it close for three quarters, but couldn’t match Moscow’s firepower in the final period, losing 74-62.
Unlike his previous stops, Pashutin struggled a bit early in Krasnodar. Loko lost to Zalgiris in his first game, followed by an unexpected setback to Nymburk. The team turned things around with a five-game winning streak, but struggled with consistency throughout the season.
Pashutin’s winning touch returned in the postseason. Kuban got better and better each round, dispatching Donetsk in the first round, UNICS in the quarters and Zalgiris in the semis. That set up a showdown with CSKA in the finals. Though the Army Men were heavily favored, Lokomotiv gave them all they could handle, nearly forcing a Game 5 after falling behind 2-0 in the series.
The following season, Lokomotiv and CSKA were back at it again, this time in the quarterfinals. Stretched thin between the EuroLeague and VTB League, Krasnodar finished 3rd in Group A during the regular season and drew the top-seeded Army Men in round two.
Game 1 of the series was an instant classic. CSKA raced to a 30-8 lead midway through the 2nd quarter and looked like it would coast to a series-opening win. But the Army Men relaxed a little too early. Led by Marcus Williams, who poured in 22 points on 6-8 shooting from downtown, Krasnodar cut the deficit to single digits by halftime and went on to win 87-83 on the road and steal home-court advantage.
Kuban also won Game 2, 81-66. The series moved to Krasnodar, where many expected the Railwaymen to end CSKA’s season at the Basket Hall. Games 3 and 4 were extremely tight. Underdog Loko had chances to put the series away, but CSKA responded each time, squeaking out 76-73 and 79-78 victories. Back in Moscow for Game 5, Pashutin’s men ran out of steam, losing big to the Army Men to crash out of the postseason.
Despite the thrilling series vs. CSKA, Loko did not meet its goals for the season, and the club decided to part ways with Pashutin over the summer.
Pashutin began the 2014-15 season in the Superleague as head coach of the Russian reserve national team. He was only there for a few months, returning to the VTB League in November as UNICS head coach.
With the team already in a hole, Pashutin wasn’t able to engineer a quick turnaround that season. The team was worn down by games in the EuroLeague and EuroCup and struggled to a 6th-place finish in the VTB League. A first-round playoff exit to Lokomotiv put a merciful end to the campaign.
Pashutin righted the ship the following season. Given the chance to assemble a new roster in free agency, he found a winning combination, guiding UNICS to a 2nd-place finish in the League. The postseason was a success, too. Kazan weathered a five-game series in the semis vs. Zenit and advanced to the finals vs. CSKA, earning a berth in the EuroLeague in the process. Despite missing out on a championship, UNICS did push the Army Men to four games, winning Game 3 at home.
Stretched between the EuroLeague and VTB League, UNICS once again struggled during the 2016-17 campaign. Plagued by injuries and fatigue, a promising season quickly soured. Free agency was little help either, as the team finished in 5th place in the League and lost once again to Lokomotiv in the first round.
Russian Stars (2017 All-Star Game)
Evgeny Pashutin did enjoy one historic win last season. Named coach of the Russian Stars at the 1st-ever VTB United League All-Star Game in Sochi, he helped the home team spring an upset on the the World Stars. Andrey Vorontsevich and Alexey Shved led the way for Russia, outplaying the League’s foreign stars en route to a win in the sold-out exhibition.
Avtodor played its first game under Evgeny Pashutin on Wednesday in the FIBA Europe Cup. Playing at home, Saratov suffered a surprising loss to Nevezis Lithuania and was eliminated from the next round.
As far as Pashutin is concerned, however, the loss could prove beneficial. Now Avtodor will be able to focus exclusively on the VTB League, unlike many other teams in the League that will be stretched thin by dueling competitions. For the remainder of the season, Saratov will be fresh and well-prepared for each League match-up, no small thing in pro basketball.
With that in mind, Avtodor looks like a serious contender to finish in the top six. No one should be surprised if Pashutin’s club springs a few upsets along the way, too. The first test for the coach and club looms on Sunday in Minsk, where they will face a surprising Tsmoki club that’s sitting in 6th place with a 3-3 record.