Currently in his fifth Turkish Airlines Euroleague season, Sasha Kaun of CSKA Moscow has established himsel as one of the premier centers in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague. A former NCAA champion and a bronze medal winner at the last Olympics, Kaun has twice come within a single shot of winning a Euroleague title with CSKA. The 28-year old big man is a Euroleague record-holder, too, the only player in competition history to make more than 70% of his two-point shot attempts. This season is no different for Kaun, who is averaging career bests of 9.8 points and 1.3 blocks per game.
His success is all the more impressive for the fact that Kaun had no intention of becoming a basketball player when he was young, but eventually used the sport to help fill a huge void left when, as a 13-year-old only child, his father died under tragic and mysterious circumstances in Siberia.
Suddenly, overnight, Sasha had to grow up really fast.
"It definitely was hard. Hard on my mom, hard on me," Kaun recollects. "At that time I probably didn't realize how tough it was to lose someone like that. It kind of all came as a shock to us and definitely affected some of the growing up I had to do pretty fast.".
He tried to help his mother by staying out of trouble and helping her with everyday things. Together, three years after his father’s death, they decided that Sasha should take an unexpected opportunity to study abroad in the United States. He was 16.
"It was definitely hard on her to let me go, and hard on me as a 16-year-old boy to go to a whole other country and continent, and be away from home, not knowing really where I am going, or speaking English all that well," he said.
It turned out to be a life-changing decision. Far from Siberia, in sunny Florida at the Florida Air Academy, Kaun discovered basketball, a sport he previously only played in school during gym class.
"The high school coach asked me if I'd like to try, I said sure, and that's kind of like where we started," Kaun recalls. "But it was definitely a long road to where I am now."
Where he is now is one of the greatest clubs in Europe, the perennial Russian champion CSKA Moscow. On the road to there, Kaun won NCAA championship with University of Kansas in 2008, becoming one of the few Europeans ever to win an NCAA title, and later became a bronze medal winner with Russia at the 2012 Olympics in London.
Equally important, while in college, Kaun studied computer science, his father's profession.
"When I was growing up with my dad, I was always around computers for most of my life, as long as I could remember," he says. "And I kind of wanted to learn that, and figure that out."
Basketball brought Kaun home to Russia. In his rookie season with CSKA in 2009, and also in 2012, Kaun came within a shot of winning the Euroleague title. That goal still motivates Kaun, but whether or not he ever becomes a Euroleague champion, he's sure that his father would approve of what his son Sasha has made of himself.
"I'm definitely hoping that he would feel proud, you know, because I definitely never expected to be where I am right now, and all this is just something extra that kind of happened in my life," Kaun says. "And I'm just very, very grateful for it, and very happy that it happened."