Khimki captain Sergey Monia recently appeared in his 500th game for the club. On his birthday, the Russian forward talked about the midseason coaching change, named the top candidates to replace Dmitry Khvostov on the Russian national team and emphasized that he has no plans to retire.
– Khimki brought in a new coach midseason, even though one of the biggest problems was injuries. Was the move justified?
– Players don’t make the decision to fire a coach. We weren’t winning. We lost a lot of games and the management decided to fire Georgios Bartzokas and bring in a familiar face in Rimas Kurtinaitis. I have to admit, we didn’t play as well in the EuroLeague as we’d planned before the start of the season. But there’s every chance to make up for it in the VTB League.
– What has Rimas Kurtinaitis managed to change since taking over the team?
– Every coach has their own view of defense and offense, team rules and expectations. Of course, he didn’t throw everything out, but gradually started to change the defense and offense. Now we’ve finished playing in the EuroLeague and can spend more time at practice. The players who played with him before are trying to help the coach and explain to the new guys what he wants.
– Is Alexey Shved the best player in Europe?
– Of course! Alexey proved everything last season. He played every game, won a lot of crazy games and hit unbelievable shots. This season, an unfortunate injury took him out for three and a half months. Now Alexey is trying to get back in shape so he can enter the playoffs at full strength.
– Last season, there was a lot of talk on the Internet that Khimki tanked at the end of the regular season in order to avoid CSKA in the semifinal.
– I’m not going to comment on that at all. The guys who were on the court didn’t throw games. I can’t imagine how you could play and intentionally let someone score on you.
– Khimki has almost clinched a spot in the top-three this season, but there’s a very good chance of playing CSKA in the semifinals. What are your odds in a series with the Army Men?
– There’s always a chance. The most important thing right now is not to think about who we might face. We need to play the rest of our games and see what we can expect in the playoffs. We have room to grow. We haven’t reached our full potential yet. The important thing is to avoid injuries. I don’t think any team in the League wants to meet us in the playoffs.
– It’s possible Khimki won’t protect its spot in the EuroLeague next season. Do you think Alexey Shved would stay on the team to play in the EuroCup?
– I’ll say it again, we’ll do everything in our power. Those questions should go to Alexey. It’s still early to talk about that.
– Dmitry Khvostov is injured and can’t play for the Russian national team at the World Cup. Who might replace him?
– Dima Khvostov played every game in qualifying and made a strong case for starting point guard. Of course, it’s a huge loss for our national team. The guys who were in secondary roles will have a chance to prove themselves at the World Cup. We have players: Evgeny Baburin, Viacheslav Zaitcev, Dmitry Kulagin, Misha Kulagin–if he gets healthy. The important thing is to trust them. Of course, I hope Dmitry recovers as quickly as possible. We’ve texted and he said the operation went well. Now he’s talking with Anton Ponkrashov, who underwent two similar surgeries and made a strong return.
– By the way, Ponkrashov also plays point guard, but hasn’t been on the national team for several years. Will that change now?
– Everything depends on the coach. Players who deserve it based on how they performed during the season should be invited to camp. The final decision belongs to the coach. Anton is one of the best players in Russia right now at that position.
– You said in the fall that it’s early to evaluate Joel Bolomboy. Can you do that now?
– He helped the national team against the Czech Republic, but didn’t play in Perm. I hope he can help us at the World Cup. But there are a lot of options at his position on the national team: Andrey Vorontsevich, Semen Antonov, Vladimir Ivlev, Stanislav Ilnitsky, Andrey Zubkov. Plus, Timofey Mozgov is still a question mark. I hope Tima recovers after a tough situation with his knee.
– Joel left Perm because of his daughter’s birth. What would you have done in that situation?
– Of course, I would have done the same thing. You can’t compare work and the birth of your first child. You need to be with family and support your wife when it matters.
– It’s been almost 15 years since you left for the NBA. Do you ever think about that period of your career?
– Of course, if I could turn back time, I would have started playing basketball at a much younger age. I was late to the game, so I’m missing some of the fundamentals. Maybe, if I’d started playing earlier, I would have had a better shot at sticking in the NBA. But I don’t regret that I went. I realized my dream. It’s one thing to watch on TV. It’s another to see everything for yourself. The best players in the world, the arenas, the atmosphere. Words don’t do justice. I’m very happy that I was there and gained basketball and life experience.
– Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade retired several days ago with huge fanfare at their final home games. Have you thought about what you will do?
– I haven’t, but there won’t be any special ceremonies. I don’t care for that. When the time comes, I’ll simply say, “That’s it.” And finish my pro career.
– Victor Khryapa retired, even though he could have played somewhere else.
– After America, Victor only played for CSKA. He’s a club legend. I don’t think he’s weaker than the competition at his position on other teams, but moving to another city when you have a big family isn’t easy. But, yeah, Victor could have kept playing. He’s still strong enough and he’s incredibly intelligent. He’s one of the smartest players in Europe. As far as I’m concerned, I play for Khimki and bring value to the team. I don’t like to look ahead, but I’m getting playing time from the coach and trying to repay his trust. When he stops putting me on the court, I’ll realize, “Something must be up.” That will be the first sign. The second sign will be how I feel and my drive. As long as that’s in place, I’ll keep playing.