«… Romuald, what should I give you – a tie or a victory?», the Loko players asked the team manager Roman Pashutin a couple of hours before the match with UNICS – and at the same time on the eve of his birthday.
– Victory is a matter of course. And it will also be a good gift if none of you, two–biters, at least tomorrow will not forget anything, will not lose and will not confuse,” Roman replied.
The job of a professional basketball club of the Loko level on the road is not just to come, give 110 percent on the court, share with journalists thoughts about the reasons for victory/defeat and leave. This is a multi–level puzzle of the work of the sports department and the team staff. For example, a few days ago Zakhar Vedishchev traveled to St. Petersburg separately from the team – first by car to Sochi, and from there by plane to the city on the Neva. Kirill Yelatontsev and Roman Semerninov arrived in Northern Palmyra from Moscow, from the training camp of the national team. And Andrey Martyuk was already flying to Kazan on his own, carrying not only the victory, but also the virus from St. Petersburg. And for a couple of days I ate and trained in proud solitude. Another forward, Ilya Sorokin, even got to the capital of Tatarstan from Irkutsk – after a Super League match. At the same time , Viktor Meleshenko , the club ‘s sports director , brought his uniform from Krasnodar separately…
Each of the 25 members of the standard visiting delegation must not only be registered for the flight, but also provided with a seat in the aisle or, in extreme cases, at the window. When a couple of months ago Aeroflot changed something in the tricky mechanics of passenger registration and it was impossible to register them online, Pashutin arrived at the airport three hours before the team and fought with the company’s employees for the right to seat the players according to the length of the latter’s limbs with a predatory lean Doberman. Add to this the fact that the player is by default an entity that regularly forgets the uniform, sneakers, boarding passes and at the same time rushes to dissolve and hang out in the inviting night – and you will understand that one year of work as a team administrator can be considered two or three.
In Kazan, Pashutin managed to carve out a couple of hours a day to communicate with children. But we must understand that de facto there are almost three dozen children in his charge, including the author of these lines. And all or almost all are noisy, naughty and capricious.
The medical staff has no less worries (by the way, taking this opportunity, we once again heartily congratulate the rehabilitation specialist Ivan Kaperzov on the birth of his daughter!). It is necessary not only to treat the players who are constantly catching colds, who are accustomed to the Krasnodar sun, but also to control their nutrition. Before leaving on the St. Petersburg – Kazan route, head coach Alexander Sekulich drove hard through a number of fans from among the wards to sharpen something harmful in KFC (or whatever the empire of tanned chickens is called now). And I drew their attention to the fact that they are not amateurs, but professionals – and if they want to play with teams of the caliber of Zenit and UNICS, and not in the corporate league of fat men, they should listen hard to the recommendations of Konstantin Shubin and his colleagues. Every meal on the road is subjected to the strictest control by the latter – and woe to the cook who will not stand this test.
The name of Dmitry Uzinsky at the pre-match performance was pulled and stretched by the Kazan presenter in the style of Michael Buffer. The fans applauded the ex-UNICS player, and now the captain of Loko, heartily. By the way, the ex–captain of the red-greens Stanislav Ilnitsky, who followed the return route in the summer (that is, Krasnodar – Kazan), came to the hotel on the day of the match and warmly talked with former teammates.
The beginning of the meeting was left to the hosts – but gradually the Krasnodar team seized the initiative and not only played “-5”, but also took the lead. Zakhar Vedishchev first sent Chris Horton to the poster with a cool dunk and almost certainly to the hit parade of the best moments of the tour, then scored from an average distance and realized the pass. After that, Vladislav Yemchenko arranged an aviation day for Georgy Zhbanov and put the ball in the ring with a foul – 22:16 in favor of Loko. And simultaneously with the siren about the end of the starting period, another young Russian talent of “Loco”, Alexander Shcherbenev, realized an accurate three-point shot from eight meters.
After another long–range hit in his performance three minutes later, the guests led already thoroughly – 33:24. Kazan residents began to lose their nerves: Louis Labery tried to talk to Andrei Matyuk, but received a decisive and severe rebuff. The chicks of the Loco nest grow up and mature, gradually turning – no matter how banal it may sound – into proud and confident eagles.
The guests did not even think to slow down their rapid flight – after Jaylen Barford’s trademark jet pass and Uzinsky’s coolly accurate penalties, their advantage grew to “+17” (45:28)!
For fans of statistics and basketball history, let me remind you that before this season, the score in the confrontation between Loko and UNICS was absolutely equal – 18:18. Before the reporting match, respectively, Kazan had two more wins. It’s time for Krasnodar residents to reduce the gap both in this virtual dispute and in the real standings – from the leaders.
The second half began with Devon Akun-Purcell’s attempt to drive the ball into the ring after flying through the entire three-second zone of the hosts. It would have worked – and the VTB United League press service could have stopped tracking the most beautiful moments right now and immediately assign this episode the most spectacular of the season. In any case, the Loko players received an additional charge of energy and courage and flew-they rushed not just to put the squeeze on the opponent, but to do it effectively and beautifully. A few cool defenses in a row, another hit from behind the arc from Shcherbenev and Barford – and already “+22” (62:40)!
The Kazan fans were dejected and fell silent for a while – and from behind the Loko bench, a fine landing of guest cheerleaders, led by the future wife of Shcherbenev, Camilla, rang out in thin and ringing voices to the entire Basket Hall.
If Kazan still had any illusions about the outcome of the match, then they were shattered by Emchenko, wholeheartedly hammering the ball from above with two hands – 69:42 on the 27th minute. Loko confidently played not just for the best match of the season, but also, in principle, for one of the best matches in the club’s history.
UNICS, of course, is not about those guys who are ready to give up in the middle of the third quarter. Yes, the aggressive defense of “Loco” did not just spoil, but literally destroyed the percentage of Kazan with three–point shots (1 out of 13 at the end of the game half an hour) – but still Velimir Perasovich’s wards continued to periodically find their way to the ring of “Loco”. At the beginning of the final 10 minutes, the hosts’ gap was reduced to 20 points. It seems to be an abyss by the standards of higher basketball mathematics. But, bearing in mind that the railwaymen had failed quarters this season, it was still too early to celebrate the victory – theoretically.
And practically – Barford immediately gave a three-point heat and finished everything in general! “+23”, very beautiful and very basketball-like. I finished playing “Loko” already to applause – and in the end I scored both the most productive match of the season and the biggest victory, 103:70.
The next match “Lokomotiv-Kuban” will be held at home – on February 7 against “Pari NN”. After a fantastic away performance performed by Sekulich’s team, the fans simply have to fill the stands to capacity! As in the next game – against CSKA on February 10.