|Ten years ago today, Viktor Khryapa took his first steps on a Euroleague court with a CSKA team that would immediately start a record-setting streak of eight consecutive Final Fours. A decade later, Khryapa is a veteran team leader as CSKA comes back from a great season that ended in the toughest way, losing the continental trophy on the last shot. With head coach Ettore Messina back on the bench and many new faces on the roster, Khryapa talked to Euroleague.net about the challenges facing CSKA now and how, at age 30, he approaches them in a different way. "When I was young, I was just one of 12 guys trying to do my part the best I could and see what happens from game to game," Khryapa said. "Now, I am a main guy with responsibility to make the team win. That's probably why I don't care about points and statistics like young guys do. I know that when the team wins the game, we all win."
Viktor, first congratulations on your bronze medal in the Olympics. Was that the best way to get over the difficult finish for you at the Final Four in Istanbul?
"The wins are always good, and for sure even better after losing the Final Four and going through some tough emotions. We adjusted after the Final Four and found a way to win the Russian League. Then, playing for your national team, there are different emotions and experiences. We finished in London with a medal that felt very good as a reward for the hard work we put in."
You shared that medal with five CSKA teammates from last season, three more guys from, Khimki. Does that show that something special is happening with basketball in Moscow?
"I think it shows the desire of the players here. On the national team, for many years, you basically play for free to honor your country. Most important for us is that for the last seven or eight years we have done so on a decent level, winning three medals. The Olympic medal is special because it's an event that's not only basketball, like the World Championships or EuroBasket. So the environment at the Olympics makes it a great place to win a medal, especially after we went to Beijing four years earlier as European champions and did not have a good tournament."
Now, did the medal help you forget a little about Istanbul?
"I would say that they are different things, and what happens with the national team doesn't have a strong relationship with what happened with our club in Istanbul. In my opinion, we were the best team in Europe, but we just didn't get the trophy."
Have you been able to appreciate since then what a great Euroleague season CSKA had despite the last quarter?
"The season was good for us in all aspects and all competitions. We did 99.9% of what we wanted, including our main target, which was to win the Euroleague. It just didn't happen at the very end, so we will keep working now toward that goal."
On Thursday, CSKA opens the new Euroleague season at home, first game in the competition. Is this an exciting moment of the year even for a veteran like you?
"For sure, it's a new year, a new page, and everyone wants to start in a good way. We will have our home games this year in a different, bigger arena. I am pretty excited, the same as the rest of our team and the fans. We have our new-old coach, Ettore Messina, a lot of new players who want to prove themselves in a CSKA uniform. So it will be an exciting season."
That new-coach, Ettore Messina, what's it like working with him again and what role has he given you?
"Even though it's only a couple years, we all grow and change when we experience new things and go through a lot of games and tests, as he has done and we have done. For me, his strategy and philosophy are the same, but of course there are some things that change, so after some time spent apart and new experiences we had, you relate now in a little bit different way. It's very good to have him back, but the truth is that only three or four of our guys worked with Coach Messina before. I think my role is going to change a lot, because now I help the team in different respects. My first role is to help the team become a team, first of all. With lots of guys coming here from different teams and experiences, we are trying to put everything together. We need time to do that and to hope to get all the players in the right spots on the team."
Just two years ago, CSKA missed the Top 16. Does that lesson still remind you of how hard the regular season can be?
"The Euroleague is different than the NBA. You have to go into every Euroleague game knowing that you are playing for something. You can't have an off night and catch up in the next game or later. Here, you have to work right away your best in each and every game."
It was 10 years ago that we first saw you at a Final Four. A decade later, what has all the Euroleague experience meant for you?
"For sure, the role is different now, the pressure is different and the responsibility is different. When I was young, I was just one of 12 guys trying to do my part the best I could and see what happens from game to game. Now, I am a main guy with responsibility to make the team win. That's probably why I don't care about points and statistics like young guys do. I know that when the team wins the game, we all win."
Everyone knows you hate to lose. Do you now want to win the Euroleague even more after coming so close last year?
"I'm lucky that I am at CSKA and we've played seven Euroleague seasons together so far, every year trying to win it all. So it's not like I want to win more now because we lost the final last year. Every year we want to try for the maximum. The Euroleague is a different competition because one game decides the winner, not playoffs. We lost that game last year and for sure we will try to go out harder and finish stronger this year. But I don't think it will be easy, because we've had a lot of changes. So we need to work on our game first and see how far we go taking it step by step."