After a season of watching him block shots left and right, clean up on the defensive glass and invade passing lanes for steals, Turkish Airlines Euroleague head coaches have made CSKA Moscow forward Andrei Kirilenko this season's Best Defender Trophy winner! Kirilenko, who turned 31 during the season, made life difficult for any opposing player trying to score this season. He led the competition in three key components of defense with his 7.2 rebounds per game, including 5.5 on defense, and 1.9 blocked shots on average. Moreover, he ranked second with 1.53 steals per game. His single-game highs of 6 steals and 5 blocks – both in the first five games of the season – matched the most seen in the competition all season. Kirilenko also finished the season as the Euroleague leader in performance index rating, with 24.1 per game, and ranked sixth with 14 points on average. He was the Euroleague's only player to rank among the 10 best in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks. Likewise, Kirilenko was the only player to average at least 1 steal, 1 block and 1 three-pointer per game. In doing, so he anchored CSKA's defense as the club returned to the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four after a one-year absence. He joins teammate Viktor Khryapa as the second CSKA player to win the award in the eight years it has existed. Among the other top vote-getters this time were the trophy's six-time winner, Dimitris Diamantidis of Panathinaikos, as well as David Moss of Montepaschi Siena, Victor Sada of F.C. Barcelona Regal and Richard Hendrix of Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv. Kirilenko will be honored as the Best Defender Trophy winner at the Efes Pilsener Euroleague Awards Ceremony on the evening of May 12 at Ciragan Palace in Istanbul during the 2012 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four.
The Best Defender Trophy is the second of several end-of-season honors awarded by Euroleague Basketball. Already announced was the Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy, which was won by Montepaschi Siena guard Bo McCalebb and the Euroleague Rising Star Trophy, for players under 22, which went for the second year in a row to Nikola Mirotic of Real Madrid. Still to be announced are the nominees for the All-Euroleague first and second teams. The All-Euroleague first and second teams, plus the Euroleague MVP, will be revealed at the Efes Pilsener Euroleague Awards Ceremony on May 12 at the Final Four in Istanbul. Two other awards, the Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy and the Euroleague Club Executive of the Year, are post-season awards.
Kirilenko, who returned to elite European competition this season for the first time since leading CSKA to the 2001 SuproLeague Final Four, dominated at both ends of the floor from opening night, when he starred with 17 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks – all team-highs – in a 74-87 demolition of Zalgiris Kaunas. Three weeks later, Kirilenko set the tone on the defensive end in a come-from-behind overtime win over defending champion Panathinaikos as he finished with 10 rebounds, 5 blocks and 3 steals. A week later he amassed 9 rebounds, 6 steals and 3 rejections in leading CSKA to a 5-0 record with a comfortable home win over Unicaja. A broken nose and concussion suffered in a Russian League game ended his regular season after five games, but Kirilenko returned for the Top 16 and rejected 3 shots in his first game back. Menacing defense remained his calling card the rest of the way as won its Top 16 Group with a 5-1 record, disposed of Gescrap BB in the playoffs and proudly marched into the Final Four.
Kirilenko started his pro career with Spartak St. Petersburg as a 16-year-old and joined CSKA two years later. During his three seasons with CSKA, Kirilenko helped the club win two Russian League titles and reach the 2001 SuproLeague Final Four. He later played a decade with Utah of the NBA, where he was named once to the NBA all-star team and three times to the NBA all-defensive team. Kirilenko has also starred for the Russian national team, which he led to the gold medal at EuroBasket 2007, after which he was named MVP, and the bronze medal at EuroBasket 2011, after which he was selected to the all-tournament team.