Star Expert

Sergey Kushchenko: “Krasnodar has a very high level of basketball culture”

The Loko and PARMA-PARI match is the final for both teams in 2022. And at the same time – a key one from the point of view of tournament layouts. The President of VTB United League shared his opinion about the upcoming game. But, of course, the conversation was not limited to this – it touched upon various aspects of the development of the tournament.

– I was at the match of PARMA-PARIS and Lokomotiv-Kuban in the first round, – Kushchenko began. – In terms of intensity, in my opinion, it was one of the best games of the season. Full house (in Perm, thank God, basketball is loved and understood) – and such a plot! It is especially pleasant that the fate of the meeting was decided by Russian players: Zakhar Vedishchev, Andrey Martyuk. Zakhar showed excellent composure in the end, taking over the game at key moments.
I hope that the Russians will play the main roles in the second match between Lokomotiv-Kuban and PARMA-PARIS. And as for the result… The rotation of the red-greens, it seems to me, is wider and brighter than that of the Permians. In addition, Loko plays at home, and the Krasnodar Basket Hall is one of the best halls in the VTB United League. In Krasnodar, they love their team and know how to cheer for it. In general, this city has a very high level of basketball culture. In any case, I am waiting for a bright and interesting game performed by both teams.

To what extent does the strategy of Lokomotiv-Kuban fit into the VTB United League development concept – to raise players from the children's level? And how competitive, in your opinion, can you be with such a strategy?
– When this idea was still in its infancy, Andrey Vedishchev and I met several times, discussed his project. It seemed that the design, especially for Krasnodar, is complex and requires a lot of resources and investments. The most interesting thing is that, having made this decision, Andrey, as the head of the club, convinced the shareholders to take a risk. The club, which recently reached the Euroleague Final Four, suddenly begins to purposefully develop young Russian players. That is, in fact – somewhere to sacrifice a little result. But Vedishchev's dream and his unshakable desire eventually realized this serious project, and the best basketball academy in Russia appeared in Krasnodar. It is very good that the students of the youth training center have a clear understanding: if they work 24/7, they will not be left without a team. All the possibilities are there – just work. This means that clubs will receive players from this academy who know how to drive the ball with both hands, throw correctly, understand where to turn around, what is a "pick and roll" and so on. There is another example in the league – the MBA. They also focus on Russians, but the concept is different: they basically have no foreign players, they take those who did not get enough playing time in our top clubs. At the moment, the MBA is showing good results. But in basketball, chickens are counted in the spring – I'm talking about the final place, and about the development of players. Let's see at the end of the season what this playing time is converted into. In any case, Russian players in the confrontation with serious rivals are growing very fast.
The last two years have been a very difficult time for the VTB United League: first covid, now a special operation. On the other hand, any crisis is a time of new ideas and opportunities. In your opinion, what are the biggest difficulties for the league in these conditions? And what positive and interesting things have been generated during this time?
– Everyone knows the difficulties, the whole world has experienced them: it was impossible to play, fly, almost everything was forbidden. In such conditions, the quality of management is clearly manifested – by clubs, by the league, by the country. From this situation, we have learned a unique experience of working in a stressful situation. While waiting for the indulgences, we tried to stay in mutual communication: we held a cyber tournament, tried to connect not only players, but also their families to online communication in order to understand who has what problems and what can be done. And as a result, they were able to resume competitions when representatives of other sports had not even started training again. Then it was also not easy: Rospotrebnadzor set new conditions for us almost weekly. We tried to work it out as quickly and efficiently as possible. Thanks to the clubs, who also reacted very quickly – they actively connected social networks, organized broadcasts. And, of course, many thanks to the Government and the Ministry of Sports – they made a number of very important decisions specifically for our segment. Manual control mode – this phrase can be described as a covid period. I'm remembering all this now - and I don't believe that we did it!
Now Russian clubs are banned from most international competitions. What is the current strategy of the VTB United League in relations with abroad? Are we aiming to return to European competitions or are we creating a competing tournament?
– In this regard, we still have a manual control mode. Because every day brings new challenges: Western regulators give some recommendations, then others. The volatility in the basketball market is very high. The club can sign a star – and the person just won't come. It is difficult to carry out strategic planning in such conditions. We are not looking further than a week now. But our main goal does not change – to preserve the quality of basketball. Every day we try to develop the VTB United League. In September, a Super Cup was held with the invitation of serious European clubs – Partizan, Megi. This made it clear to us that Abroad still wants to cooperate with us. Not everyone is ready to say it out loud, but there is definitely a desire. Back in June, it was hard to believe that by the beginning of the season we would have players like Thomas Ertel and Nikola Milutinov in the league. Or Casper Ware -who corresponds with Demar Derozan, trains with LeBron James. Thanks to such stars, the world will know that we have serious people playing basketball here. We are now responding as quickly as possible to any opportunities provided by international sports markets and industry. We had communication with investors from Dubai, with European clubs who wanted to get to us. So the future of the VTB United League, in my opinion, is optimistic.
I don't remember such a final series as last season in our country since the Soviet confrontation between Zalgiris and CSKA. At the same time, the semifinals also turned out to be excellent in intensity. How much was such a bright playoff expected for you?
– Quite unexpected. After all, the clubs' March losses were completely different. From somewhere, as from CSKA, almost all the legionnaires left. Someone, like Zenit, managed to get most of the players back. The main result of this playoff for me was that our collaboration with the fans worked. It turned out that the audience is ready to fill the 13-thousandth arenas! And not just come to the matches by invitation, but buy tickets! We have been working with clubs for a long time. After all, our task is not just to attract the viewer to the stands, but to offer a full service: convenient parking, entertainment for children, high–quality food, beautiful attributes. Zenit did a lot of work in this regard last season: increased the awareness of the players, taught the audience to come to the arena in advance. Lokomotiv-Kuban consistently produces something creative. Kazan has made a good step. The newcomers of the league – IBA and Samara – are also doing well, they are trying. In general, everyone has a basketball culture, albeit at different levels. And the last playoffs showed us that as soon as the sports intrigue is properly twisted, people are willing to buy tickets.
The New Year is coming. What do you wish basketball fans?
– Peace, kindness, health, all the best. And cool basketball – no worse than last season.
And what was your most memorable New Year?
– At school, in the 10th grade, I invited my classmates to celebrate the New Year... on the train. At about eleven o'clock in the evening, we – ourselves, without parents – boarded a commuter flight somewhere far away from Perm. Closer to midnight we got to the driver's cab, congratulated him. Now, probably, it is already possible to talk about it - they drank champagne with him and asked him to turn on the gas. It was an extraordinary experience: it was dark around, snow, magnificent winter weather! We returned home, under the Christmas tree, at about five in the morning. That's what turned out to be a non-standard celebration.
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