Turkish Airlines EuroLeague
Adidas Next Generation Tournament
EUROLEAGUE FANTASY CHALLENGE
EFES DANCE CHALLENGE
Sasha Kaun, CSKA Moscow
Feb 27, 2013
by Javier Gancedo, Euroleague.net
When it started the Top 16 with a 4-0 record to cap nine consecutive victories, matching the Turkish Airlines Euroleague's best streak this season, CSKA Moscow seemed to be on a fast track to early playoffs qualification. Now, it's faces the rare situation of having lost three out its last four Top 16 games for the first time all century. As such, CSKA is tied with Panathinaikos Athens at 5-3 for Group E's third place, while Unicaja Malaga lurks right behind at 4-4. It is likely that only two of them will reach the playoffs, which is the only focus right now of center Sasha Kaun, one of CSKA's main pillars recently. Kaun has averaged 12 points on 65% two-point shooting, 6.3 rebounds and 3.6 blocks in the last three Euroleague games. He leads all Top 16 players in rejections with 2 per game, and if there were a dunks leader, it would have to be him, too. Given more playing time since an injury to power forward Viktor Khryapa, the response from Kaun has been emphatic at both ends of the floor. He is just as emphatic about CSKA's path to recovery. "We are where we are," Kaun told Euroleague.net. "We put ourselves in the situation in which we lost three games. We need to win the rest of our home games, get a couple of road wins and be in a good situation for the playoffs."
Hello, Sasha. Despite your team's recent losses, CSKA is well on its way to reach the playoffs. What has happened to the team recently?
"We had some injuries that affected players like Viktor Khryapa, who is a crucial part of our team. Overall, we are not playing well. We had a really tough game against Efes and were really close to winning, but gave it up at the end. Overall, we will make a good progression soon. We had a little bit of a losing streak a couple of weeks ago and I think we overcame that and are doing a little bit better now."
It's unusual for CSKA to lose three out of four games at this time of year. Do you feel any pressure because of it?
"I don't think so. Every team goes on a little bit of a slump during the season. We won a lot of games in a row and lost some now. I think that, in the end, it is a matter of how good the team is. The team will come back and get those losses behind them."
Like you said, Viktor Khryapa has been out for two games. How much does this team miss him?
"Definitely a lot. He is a big, big part of our game. He is our captain and a leader and we have missed him a lot. Hopefully we will get him back in the next couple of weeks or so."
Coach Ettore Messina has had you playing alongside Nenad Krstic all season. Now, with Viktor sidelined, that is happening more. How do you like playing together with Nenad on court?
"I like it a lot. I think it is a very good situation for us because Coach Messina decided to put two very big guys that can do very well defensively. It is hard for opposing teams to get to the basket and drive inside because we have a 6' 11'' (2.10 meters) guy and a seven-footer (2.13 meters) inside. We cover a lot of space and opponent tend to shoot from outside. On offense, coach has created a lot of situations for us, especially when Nenad is double-teamed. It has been very successful whenever we are into that."
You seem to have dunked most of your shots in the last few weeks. How much do you enjoy dunking?
"I enjoy it a lot! My offensive game is not great but I just try to make athletic plays and rely on our guards to give me the ball close to the basket, through pick-and-rolls. And I just try to make the easiest shot. A dunk is not just a two-pointer, it can be a momentum changer."
Theo Papaloukas is back to CSKA's lineup. How much can he helped the team in the most important games of the season?
"I think he will be very helpful. Not that much playing-wise, but when it comes to leadership and understanding the important games. He has been in a lot of situations, was a crucial part of this team and knows how everything works. I think it is a good situation for CSKA to get him. He's been on this team in the past for six years and knows Coach Messina very well. It is good that he is around us."
You have played your whole pro career with CSKA. It doesn't happen much these days, but is it your desire to stay there until you retire?
"Hopefully. If everything goes well, as long as I can, I definitely want to be here. I am very comfortable with everyone and this is a good situation. I really hope it can happen and that I can stay here for many years!"
What will it take to catch Efes or Madrid to get homecourt advantage in the playoffs?
"I don't think we have to be worried about this right now. We have to worry about getting to the playoffs and winning the rest of the games. We are where we are. We put ourselves in the situation in which we lost three games. We need to win the rest of our home games, get a couple of road wins and be in a good situation for the playoffs."
Of course, winning the Euroleague title is the only goal this season, especially after what happened in last year's final. How much extra motivation does it give you to get another shot at the title this season?
"Definitely a lot. Since I got here, we came pretty close two times to winning the Euroleague final. First it was in Berlin with Coach Messina, when we had a shot to win the game and Siskauskas missed the three-point shot against Panathinaikos. Last year, we were almost there and it slipped away from us at the end of the game. It is an extra motivation: we have to do everything possible to win another title and hopefully it will happen, eventually."