The last time Andrei Kirilenko played in the UK, the NBA was still just a dream. Appearing for CSKA Moscow against the London Towers (remember them?), he was a young man with a bright future still ahead.
“It was a long time ago, 12 years ago,” he acknowledged. “I’ve been back to London almost every year since. I love the restaurants, the shopping, the tourist stuff.”
Hence he is more familiar than more with the local landscape ahead of Tuesday’s exhibition against the Chicago Bulls. And he could be back again at The 02, of course, in three years time if Russia succeeds in qualifying for the Olympics. Regardless of whether the 2007 European champions get a wild card for next year’s world championships, the All Star intends to be on board yet again on national duty.
It has always been one of basketball’s great enigmas: why AK47 is so unstoppable for his country but yet so hamstrung within Jerry Sloan’s system in Utah. Having played in Salt Lake City his entire NBA career, there must be a better home for his talents. Or so you’d think.
“It’s not frustrating,” said Kirilenko. “It doesn’t matter who we get, that’s just who we got. You have to play with everybody. We have a great example. Russia doesn’t have anyone from the NBA except me but we won the European Championship. It was tough. It’s not like the Spanish team with five NBA guys or the French with the whole team.
“But again, it’s one more example. If you build a team to win rather than around individuals, you’ll have a great chance to be successful. Same with the Jazz. We have a chance to win the championship. But it’s only words until we convert it.”
Kirilenko was one of a group of Jazz players who attended the Chelsea-Liverpool game on Sunday.
“I’m a fan of the Premier league because all the games are aggressive for 90 minutes.”
It did mean he missed out on the chance to see close friend, Andriy Arshavin, feature for Arsenal. “He’s not as tall as me,” he said. “But he’s fast enough.”
In a blow for Utah, shooting guard CJ Miles ruptured a ligament in his thumb and will miss the London encounter. Miles, who averaged 9.1 points per game last season, will require surgery.