This fall, Sergey Monia officially became the first Khimki Moscow Region player to begin a 10th season with the Russian club.
Only two current players appeared in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague before Monia debuted in 2002, and he is also one of the longest-tenured players on any team. What makes him most proud, though, is having been part of every big international success in Khimki's two-decade history.
Monia quite vividly remembers his first hours at the club, not to mention his first game in a Khimki uniform.
"We had just lost at the World Cup 2010 with Russia and I came to practice and introduced myself to the coach, Sergio Scariolo, who was also at the World Cup with Spain," Monia says. "A couple days later we played against Pepsi Caserta to try to qualify for the EuroLeague."
Monia started in that first game for Khimki, a 74-77 road victory on September 21, 2010. The team won its five subsequent qualifying games by an average of 17.8 points to make it to the EuroLeague Regular Season, which Khimki started with an 82-76 home win over Asseco Prokom Gdynia with 7 points.
"I know everyone here, from a driver to the president. I know the cleaning ladies, or the staff making travel arrangements. Everybody."
By that time, however, Monia was already a vested veteran, a 27-year old with four EuroLeague seasons under his belt who had already played in three Final Fours with CSKA Moscow, from 2003 to 2005. Khimki, as a club, was making just its second EuroLeague appearance and Monia had no idea what the future would bring.
"When I first signed, it was for two years. I did not think it will turn into seven or eight years. Well, now, this season is my tenth," Monia, now 36, says.
"After each season I listened to my body and my mind, asking, 'Are you ready to play or not?' Khimki wanted to sign me, and we continued year by year."
Monia now holds a club record for games played. He tied the previous mark of 466 appearances held by another club legend, Vitaly Fridzon, in a game against Avtodor Saratov, club where his pro career started. Three days later, in a EuroLeague win over Buducnost VOLI Podgorica, he broke the record, and now has more than 500 games in Khimki yellow.
"Khimki is a family to me", he says. "I know everyone here, from the driver to the president. I know the cleaning ladies, or the staff making travel arrangements. Everybody. Of course, I also know many of our fans."
His role goes way beyond what happens on the floor or in the locker room. For new teammates, Monia is the man to ask for any type of advice.
"When new players come to the club, especially from a different country, they have questions about apartments, food, about shoes, where is the cinema, where is it better to live because of the bad traffic in Moscow," Monia says.
When he signed his latest contract extension in the summer, head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis called Monia "the personafication of the club." Monia thinks the same about his head coach.
"The dream of everyone at the club remains to make the Final Four."
"I've worked with him seven years before this one," Monia recalls. "It tells you a lot about him. There are not many coaches to work with one club for that many years. For Coach Kurtinaitis, Khimki is like a second home, just the same as it is for me."
Obviously, Monia has been around quite a while. Only two active players – Felipe Reyes of Real Madrid and Luis Scola of AX Armani Exchange Milan – debuted before Monia did so in 2002 with Khimki. He entered this season with exactly 200 EuroLeague appearances with three Moscow teams – CSKA, Dynamo and Khimki - and has 104 more games played in the EuroCup with Dynamo and Khimki.
With Khimki, there have been many moments he cherishes, but some stand out.
"For sure, winning the VTB Cup in my first season 2010-11", Monia remembers. "It was a Final Four in Kazan, in the semis we beat UNICS and then in the final against CSKA we pulled out a win in the last minutes. That was very emotional, winning it in the first half of my first season here.
"Then, there are two EuroCup titles, first in 2012 and then in 2015. For example, that second one was also our coach's third EuroCup title. His first was with Rytas, against Khimki, at the Final Eight in Turin. I remember it, but I did not play here yet."
Monia also likes to remember the many good battles his team fought against CSKA, including their four-game EuroLeague Playoffs series in 2018. Each game was decided by 6 points or less, and though CSKA prevailed, Khimki already made a breakthrough just by reaching the playoffs.
"I want fans to remember me as someone who played and fought on the floor, someone who gave maximum effort every game."
"That was the first time in club history, and it was a big step for the club and for the future of the club," Monia says. "The dream of everyone at the club remains to make the Final Four, like Lokomotiv Kuban did in 2016. We sign good players to reach those targets, and we all want it."
Just being in that conversation, however, is a success for Khimki, which rose from a team that had to qualify to the EuroLeague, when Monia first arrived, to a regular fixture in the strongest EuroLeague competition ever.
What this and future seasons hold, and how much Monia has left in the tank, remains to be seen.
"I am not looking past this season. I am aware of my age, and after this season we will see what will happens," Monia explains.
What he's sure about is what he would like his legacy to be.
"For sure, It is not about being a legend," Monia said. "I want fans to remember me as someone who played and fought on the floor, someone who gave maximum effort in every game, and was diving after basketballs. That would be a much better way if fans would remember me like that."