«Won’t be surprised if Enisey, Uralmash and Runa make it to the Top 6». Sergey Kushchenko – about the growing competition

«Won’t be surprised if Enisey, Uralmash and Runa make it to the Top 6». Sergey Kushchenko – about the growing competition

The new season brought several discoveries and many unexpected results. United League president Sergey Kushchenko assessed the key moments at the start of the regular season in an interview to Sport-Express.

There are necessarily some extraordinary games in every Round.

– What can explain such a confident CSKA win in Kazan?

– I would single out several key factors. First of all, it’s Knight absence. Marcos is one of the key players in Perasovic system. He’s a very strong guard, and he does a great job of defending the opponents’ best player. If you remember, the guard also missed the game in Samara, where UNICS let opponents score over 100 points and lost. Second, the hosts lost the rebounds (26-42). CSKA’s frontcourt played very good, especially Jekiri, who returned to Kazan with another team. Third, CSKA showed the highest level of discipline and communication. Between the coach and the players. Everyone who came off the bench looked very solid and strengthened the game: Antonov, Kardanakhishvili, Jean-Charles. Maybe Ware didn’t have his best game. His offense was not very good. But there were other leaders: Melo, M’Baye, the same Jekiri.

– The reigning champion scored only 66 points at home. Is this a red flag?

– It’s clear that the Kazan team is not in optimal shape. And let’s be honest, the home court didn’t help them in the Game of the Week. Several times I was amazed at how they refused to rebound the ball after Reynolds’ shots. But, again, the opponent had a very high level of communication. CSKA’s defense was high-quality and well-coordinated. Now they’re off on a long road series: Nizhny Novgorod, Astana, Krasnoyarsk. The game against Pari NN is scheduled for Sunday, November 26, and Zoran Lukic team is very anxious.

– Almost half of the roster is injured…

– Yes, it’s alarming. Nizhny Novgorod is going through this period very hard. Even with a shortened roster, though, the team is playing well. And in St. Petersburg played at the highest level, but Dubljevic was the X-factor in the end. That’s why teams sign players of such a high level. Guys take the initiative in the final seconds and decide the games’ results. And there are plenty of players like that in the United League. There are no easy games anymore. Wherever CSKA or Zenit come to play, it won’t be easy for them. This is good for the League. Every round will have one or two unusual games. Either the favorites lose or win, but in a very tense games. We have almost no blowouts.

Pascual is looking for a combination for a long time, which always works at the end of the season

– Is Zenit still the favorite of the season?

– By summer signings, by names – they are favorites. Yes, the game is still questionable, but we know that Pascual is looking for a combination that always works at the end of the season. In a championship year, Zenit was transformed closer to the decisive gamea. Last season was the same. In the Playoffs, it was a completely different team, a title contender. But the fate of the medals, as you remember, was decided in the Semifinals Game 7 in Kazan. Zenit was winning and had possession with a few seconds to go. But Zubkov layup, free throws by Hunter, and UNICS went to the Finals. That’s why we love basketball. It’s memorable for a long time.

UNICS is also among the favorites. They’ve retained the championship team core. I think the Kazan team should regain the stability in January and February.

– Zenit also have 5 injured players, including Thomas Heurtel.

– Yes, injuries are problem to many teams. Loko had a tough start without DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell. Now the team show a completely different level. I’m sure there will be a real fight to get into the Top 6 at the end of the first round of the regular season. And after the season will be divided into 2 parts, it will be even more interesting. I’m looking forward to our first play-in. The new scheme gives 4 teams (from the bottom of the standings) a chance to compete for the 2 remaining Playoff spots. Clubs will not lose motivation until the very end of the season and sell off their leaders during the season, as Samara did last year. I believe that the League, with the support of the clubs, made the right decision.

PARMA and Avtodor need to look closer at Enisey

– Samara is now in the Top 6. Runa and Uralmash are very close. But PARMA and Avtodor are not impressive so far. What do you think about it?

– PARMA and Avtodor need to take a close look at Enisey. The Krasnoyarsk team had a quality summer selection and that solves a lot of problems. 2 great signings – Rathan-Mayes and Martin. And new head coach Arsic, who understands his leaders perfectly and instills confidence. In today’s environment, you have to work that way. I haven’t studied Enisey schedule in the first part of the regular season, but in any case, they have a great chance to get into the Top 6.

Speaking of PARMA, the team play most games with 7 players. They play a super game like they did against CSKA in Moscow, which they should have won, but they still fall apart in road games. The Perm team had a good game recently in Samara, but didn’t last long. Samara has a much longer bench and  a much wider rotation. It was a very important game that can inspire one team and nail the other.

Avtodor is showing the kind of play we’re used to see from them. Fast-paced basketball, focused on offense. But will these players help the Saratov team to reach the Playoffs again? When I looked at the rosters before the start of the season, I immediately said that our old-timers would have a tough time. Runa, Uralmash and Samara signed great players. And how Astana has been transformed. In my opinion, these clubs and Enisey have very high quality recruiting.

– Would you be surprised if Enisey, Uralmash and Runa makre it to the Top 6?

– No. This is especially true for Enisey. Uralmash and Runa are playing very decent basketball, but before making predictions, you should study their schedules carefully. I would also note how the newcomers look from a marketing point of view. They have an interesting social media and they’re doing a great job of attracting fans. We always keep a close eye on this.

– The main sensation of last season MBA  is also far from last year’s results.

– MBA is objectively not easy. After all, it’s a project where only Russian players play, and in most League teams foreigners make the difference. They are being tuned into them much more seriously than last season. They are being analyzed thoroughly, that’s why it’s hard to win now.