Gennady Volnov, Europe's winningest player
Veteran sportswriter and Euroleague.net collaborator Vladimir Stankovic has been following the best basketball on the continent longer than almost anyone journalist, writing for decades about the sport in major publications in both Serbia and Spain. Once again this season, he offers a blog that honors the history of European basketball - even while history keeps being made!
The history of European basketball doesn't have another case even similar to that of Gennady Volnov: He played in six European championships and won six gold medals! He also won four Olympic medals and two from the World Championships, giving him 12 trophies won in the three most important international competitions. It's true that Kresimir Cosic of Yugoslavia had 14 in the same competitions, but Volnov is over him at club level. While Cosic was never a European champ, Volnov won three titles with CSKA Moscow in 1961, 1963 and 1969.
Gennady (even though based on Russian phonetics, it would be more accurate to type Genadiy) was born in Moscow on November 28, 1939, and he passed away in Moscow on July 15, 2008. He was a versatile player and, as Sergey Belov used to say, ahead of his time. At 2.01 meters tall, he played three positions: shooting guard, forward and power forward. His natural position was close to the rim due to his physical features. He was a great rebounder, but also shot well from long range. Aside from his qualities as a player, he was a natural leader and served as the captain for both CSKA and the USSR national team for many years.
The career of Gennady Volnov - his friends called him Genka - started in 1956 with Burevestnik, a humble club from Moscow. In 1959, at 20 years old, he moved on to CSKA Moscow along with Anatoliy Astahov and Armenak Alachachan and that very same year he made his debut with the national team at the EuroBasket in Istanbul. There he won his first gold medal, even though, since he was a rookie, his contribution was not prominent. In fact he averaged 3.8 points per game and he didn't even take the floor in the decisive games. The following year he took part in the Rome Olympics and there he saw a genius of the court: American guard Oscar Robertson, a super-modern guard at the time, which opened for Volnov new grounds in his play. He understood that basketball was not only about shooting and physical strength, but also about imagination, creativity and that the game could be fun without the systems created by the coach.
I saw Volnov for the first time at the 1961 EuroBasket in Belgrade, even though I must admit that I had my eyes on Janis Krumins, the first giant in European basketball who, at 2.18 meters tall, looked like a colossus and attracted eyes everywhere he went. In Belgrade, with an average of 11.7 points, Volnov won his second gold medal. He repeated that feat in Wroclaw in 1963 (10.7 ppg.), Moscow 1965 (12.6 ppg.), Helsinki 1967 (11.1 ppg.) and Naples 1969 (7.0 ppg.). In between EuroBaskets he also shined in World championships: in 1963 in Rio de Janeiro (bronze, 14.1 points with a high of 20 against the USA) and Montevideo 1967 (gold, 11.1 ppg.). At the Olympics he won four medals and, together with Belov, he is the player with the most Olympic medals. In Tokyo 1964 (9.8 ppg.) he won the silver, in Mexico 1968 (7.4 ppg.) he took the bronze and the peak of his Olympic career was the gold in Munich 1972 (6.8 ppg.).
After the 1969 EuroBasket in Naples, due to the lack of communication with coach Aleksandar Gomelskiy, Volnov left the national team and at 30 years old he practically put an end to his career because he didn't want to play for any team other than CSKA. He did not play in the World championship in Ljubljana in 1970. There, the USSR won the bronze medal and he was not at the 1971 EuroBasket in Germany either, even though the coach there was Vladimir Kondrasin. However, for the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Kondrasin realized that a charismatic and experienced player like Volnov could help the team. Gennady accepted and wore the Soviet jersey again. He didn't play much, but Kondrasin wasn't expecting double-doubles from him either. He needed Volnov as a locker room leader. Volnov obliged and even scored some points: 12 against Senegal and Poland, 11 against the Philippines, 6 against Germany and 2 against Italy. After sitting out against Yugoslavia and Cuba, in the historic final against the USA, he didn't score, but his 4 fouls showed his fight in defense. The USSR won the gold medal after the famous repetition of the last 3 seconds, on a basket by Aleksandar Belov. The silver medals are still in the vaults of the Olympic Museum of Lausanne waiting for the American players to pick them up.
After Munich and after 13 years in the national team and 16 in his two teams, Volnov decided to put an end to his brilliant career and started to teach chemistry at a military academy. He played basketball with the CSKA veterans and also helped the young players by showing them the tricks in his repertoire. He was a very polite man, calm and never lost his temper when the opponents hit him hard, because that was the only way to stop him.
European champ three times
With 12 medals in the three most important international competitions, 10 Soviet League titles and three European crowns with CSKA, Volnov is for sure one of the winningest players in the history of European basketball. His first title at club level came in 1961 against ASK Riga, to break the Latvian team’s domination after it won the first three editions of the competition between 1958 and 1960, kind of unexpectedly. In the first game of the final, played in RIga, the ASK squad coached by Aleksandar Gomelskiy lost 62-89! Volnov scored 18 points for CSKA. ASK won the second game in Moscow, but just by 5 points (66-61). Volnov scored 13 points for CSKA, which won its first European title.
The second title arrived in 1963 after three games against Real Madrid. Real won the first game in Madrid 86-69 with 6 points from Volnov. In the second game, CSKA won exactly by 17 points, 91-74 (Volnov 8). The following day the third game to decide the series was played. In that one, on August 1, 1963 in front of 20,000 fans, CSKA won 99-80. Gennady Volnov scored 26 points and was the hero of the game.
The third crown for CSKA and Volnov came in Barcelona, on April 24, 1969. Again, against Real Madrid. CSKA won 103-99. It was a game full of drama which featured two overtime periods. Belov, who was a player/coach, spent all 50 minutes on court. Center Vladimir Andreev played the game of a lifetime (37 points, 13 rebounds) and Volnov had 12 points and 2 offensive rebounds in 37 minutes.
After Volnov's death, Belov stated that the this player had not been properly valued in Russia. Belov thinks that Volnov was "the pioneer of modern soviet basketball." Many others thought justice had not been done when, in a major survey for the best starting five ever in Russian basketball, Volnov was not selected.
Sunday, February 26, 2012