He is not a modern power forward with shoulders wide as an eagle's wingspan, nor has he ever been an NBA project. Nonetheless, Ural Great veteran Valeri Dainiko's performances this season have scared more than his opponents. "Sometimes I scare myself," Daineko said Monday in an interview with Euroleague.net. "I didn't expect myself to play so well this season. I had a lot of doubts in my mind." Consider those doubts obliterated. Thin but full of finesse, the Euroleague's MVP for Week 6 has lifted Ural Great to a 5-1 record in Group D with a career-high 20.6 points per game (and almost 29 per home game). He is fifth in the league's MVP ratings, fifth in scoring and sixth in blocked shots. He is making 50% of his two-pointers, 48% of his threes and 89% of his free throws. Get to know Valeri Dainiko in this in-depth interview from Moscow. At 31, he is back in Russia and back on form, with one goal in mind: to win the Euroleague.
You have a very special style of play - not the athletic and powerful one. Whom did you take it from?
I never thought of copying someone. Even if I did, I never would have had the chance. I grew up in a small Belarusian city where we were able to see games of the team from Minsk and, rarely, CSKA and teams from Lithunia. There was no chance to watch NBA games or any European basketball. Probably, if I had another body structure, I could play like most power forwards in Europe and the U.S. do, but I guess in that case I would prefer to play as a center, as I always admired Arvydas Sabonis. It is amazing how a person with the height of 2.20 can shoot and dribble the way he does.
What was the greatest ambition of your career?
To play in the Olympic Games for the Russian national team. I was ready to give everything for that, but it never happened (Daineko played as a junior for Belarus and because of the fact could never play for Russia). To tell you the truth I miss titles a bit. Most of the guys in Ural Great got a huge part of their personal "honor roll" with the national team: I didn't. Now the only dream I can realize is to win the Euroleague. But it is also a tough goal. I guess all the players who took part in the tournament can say the same.
What do you like about the competition?
The atmospere. There is a huge difference between Euroleague games and national league games. All the players pull themselves together, they are concentrated and ready to play. I am pretty sure that if we were to perform in the Russian League the way we do in the Euroleague, we would be able to win each and every game by at least 10 to 12 points.
Personally you can be satisfied with your performance in the beginning of the season...
I am. Sometimes I scare myself with my performances in the Euroleague. I didn't expect myself to play so well this season. After a year in PAOK, I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to play at the top level any more. I was afraid of getting an injury. In general, I had a lot of doubts in my mind. I am happy with the current situation and I like the way things are going on.
But your performance in Perm is far better than in road games. What is the explanation?
I have asked myself that question several times. I don't know the right answer. Probably it is the four-hour time difference: It is hard to play well when the only thing you want to do is sleep. It could also be responsibility. In Perm, I always play my best because I don't want all the guys in the city to point fingers at me. Everyone knows that our pay is at least 100 times higher then the average one in Perm. If we are not playing at the right level, what do they need us for?
Why you can't you achieve this kind of motivation abroad?
Motivation is not the reason for my poor game in Greece and Spain. I was too young (23 years old) during my first attempt to play abroad. In PAOK, I had the opposite problem. Plus the injury and surgery I had at the beginning of last season spoiled everything. It is not about my performance. I am sure that it is easier for me to play in Greece than in Russia. I didn't have to die from effort on the court in Greece. I could take care of myself the same way other foreigners do. If you look at the stats of the games in Greece you will never see a foreigner get five personal fouls. Each of them is trying to avoid leaving from the court early because they have to get their stats. Then, if there is enough time, they take care of the team.
Could you ever have imagined you would play in Ural Great?
No, never. I have been to Perm with CSKA and used to have some kind of snobbism toward it: I was a Moscovite. I thought that there is only one team for me in Russia: CSKA. But I have no regrets about signing with this club. They have good organization and structure. I had the option in the offseason of playing with CSKA or with Ural Great. I studied all the possibilities and although CSKA could pay me more, I chose Perm.
But this decision left you without your family for about a year. (Daineko's wife Rimma and two daughters Katya and Masha live in Moscow, because Katya has a school in the city)...Is it hard to live alone?
For now, I enjoy it. I tell myself that I am in Perm to do my job and I do it as seriously as possible. I have the same schedule every day - practice, rest, practice, dinner and I go to bed. I don't have to think about the things that bothered me in Moscow. But of course, I miss my girls and we call each other every day. Mostly my wife does because my younger daughter Masha is only 1 year old and I am always afraid to wake her up with my call after practice.