Forward Andrei Kirilenko (30 years, 206 cm) will wear CSKA uniform again after 10-year American stint. The contract with the Russian National Team leader, 2011 Eurobasket All-Tournament team member is signed for three years with NBA return option. The player went through medical tests in GMS Clinic yesterday and plans to practice with the team for the first time today.
Kirilenko started his pro career in Spartak St. Petersburg in age 16 and took CSKA offer a year after. He spent two years in army team, he was chosen in the first round of NBA draft and signed his first contract with Utah Jazz in 2001. He played for 10 seasons, had legendary John Stockton and Karl Malone as his teammates, was an NBA All-Star, led the league in blocked shots and was chosen to NBA All-Defensive Teams. Kirilenko led Team Russia to 2007 Eurobasket gold, taking the MVP honors and FIBA Europe Player of the Year trophy. He helped the team to win the Eurobasket bronze in 2011 taking the All-Tournament team honors. Kirilenko contract with Jazz has expired in July and the forward signed with CSKA as a free agent. Still the conditions of the agreement allow Andrei to terminate the contract in a month after the lockout ends to sign with the NBA team. Otherwise he had to remain with CSKA until the end of the season.
Andrei Vatutin, PBC CSKA President:
When the NBA lockout started we considered it incorrect to sign someone with a risk to leave. But after the second thought we decided to make an exception in Andrei’s case. He is a special player for CSKA and Russian basketball. First, he already played for our team. Second, the country’s best player should play for the country’s best club – we agreed on that with the management of club’s owners, Norilsky Nickel. It is also important that Andrei expressed his desire to play for CSKA himself and during all the negotiation process he confirmed several times his interest in contract with our club. This past Eurobasket proved that Kirilenko keeps his good shape, understanding of European basketball and, what is important, popularity. I am sure that he will attract the fans to the stands not only in Moscow but all over Russia.
We understand perfectly all the risks of his possible departure but we knowingly take them. In my opinion there are no minuses in inviting Andrei. Even if he leaves the team in a month or two – depending on his desire – Kirilenko will play several games, and his participation will add to the interest toward our team. I am sure that most of the fans as well as me are anxious to see Kirilenko in CSKA uniform. If the lockout finishes, and Andrei decides not to chase NBA contract, our perspectives become even better.
I’d like to note that Jonas Kazlauskas’ opinion was very important for us and in fact the final decision was taken by him. I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to Norilsky Nickel management once again for supporting our idea to invite the Russian National Team leader. That’s a perfect evidence of their attention to the team, interest in CSKA’s successes and development of Russian basketball.
Jonas Kazlauskas, CSKA head coach:
My opinion – you should not take the NBA player during the lockout. If they can leave you, you don’t know what to expect. And only the week teams can take this kind of step. At the same time every rule has its exception, and Kirilenko is the exception. Andrei is the star of Russian and world basketball, he means for his country as much as Sabonis for Lithuania, Pau Gasol for Spain, Nowitzki for Germany. He grew here, he played for CSKA, for Russia. I think thanks to his Eurobasket participation he stays in good shape. Surely, we will need time to embed him into team system. Hopefully, one or two weeks will be enough.
I am glad to be back to the team where I spent the years of adolescence. It’s a pleasure to have a chance to play for Russian fans, my friends, relatives. CSKA has a very strong team, great coach, excellent players. It’s great when the highest goals are ahead of you. It’s especially interesting to play under the load of responsibility. I am sure that we are able to solve any task together. I’d like to mention also that all the money earned in Russia I will send to Kirilenko’s Kids charity foundation. The foundation will help the children hospitals and charity-schools, sport schools, sport veterans and the basketball players who became the disabled persons.