Kirill Yelatontsev: “Every youngster in Loko has a chance to prove himself”

The new Best young player of the VTB United league gave an exclusive interview to our media partners
– How does this happen that Loko players grab the Best young player for three years in a row?
– I think, that's a matter of conditions that the club’s management creates for us, young players. Our new academy has an ideal conditions for a full training cycle, recovery and accommodation. You don't even have to leave the building. Loko has built a pyramid – here is continuity in the transition from the youngest ages to the main team, where everyone is given a chance to prove themselves.
– How do more older players of Loko treat you and another youngster, Kirill Temirov?
– We are a friendly team, both on and off the court. Yes, Temirov and I are the youngest, but there is a lot of guys who are not much older than us. However, they are, of course, more experienced, and they always have something to tell us. Foreign guys also speak a lot to us. For example, Maurice Ndour with his incredible gaming and everyday experience is always ready to help. By example, he shows what a professional athlete should be: he eats right, warms up thoroughly before each game and training. He even has his own unique exercises, which he shares with us.
– And how do you build the communication during the games?
– There's no need to talk a lot on court. When you see how the team leaders behave, you try your best to follow their example: be unyielding, aggressive and do everything to win.
– Tell us about the trainers who have worked with you at a professional level. What did Evgeny Pashutin teach, what did Alexander Sekulić give?
– When Evgeniy Yuryevich was at Loko, I just started to be involved in the team. But I learned something very important from him – that you need to fight for a place in the lineup, for playing time, you need to be tough. Also, he taught that the result depends on defense. Good defence gives energy and confidence, and from this you build your attack. Sekulić is a great professional and psychologist. He knows exactly what kind of player you are, what qualities do you have and how you can be the most useful to the team. He makes sure that you give 110% both in games and in training.
– How important for Loko was to save the whole roster between the seasons?
– Very important! We already know each other well, which gives more confidence in our partners. And it’s easier to adapt for newcomers who came as a targeted reinforcement. The experience that the team gained in last year’s finals is very valuable both professionally and emotionally. I'm sure this will help us in the playoffs.
– We've never seen you emotional. If Loko becomes the champion, are you ready for some madness? Dye your hair, shave your head, get a tattoo?
– Oh yes, for the title I'm ready to be shaved right after the final siren!
– How did you get into basketball?
– I was about eight years old. My sports teacher in school invited me to basketball section because of my height. I refused because I was already doing taekwondo. However, coach Andrey Andreyevich Vashchenko finally convinced me, I went to basketball for one lesson and liked it.
– You said "lesson", not "training session"?
– Aha. I learned basketball in general education. We played well at city competitions. And when we started beating everyone, the basketball team Yenisei took us under their wing. Since then, we were in the club structure.
– How did you move to Krasnodar from Krasnoyarsk?
– I was something like 15-16 years old. The school Spartakiada was held in Krasnodar. Coach Nikita Olegovich Potapov noticed me and invited me to Loko.
– Did you hesitate?
– I did. At that moment this invitation even scared me a bit. They told me to move from my parents to a boarding school where I didn’t know anyone. It wasn’t easy, both emotionally and training-wise. But in Krasnodar I immediately fell into a full-time study schedule – twice a day, which was very different from the much lighter workload at home. At some point, a defensive mechanism kicked in – I started to sleep a lot. I did not go to classes. All the time between workouts, I just slept. But I adapted quite quickly, and little by little everything started to work out.
– How did you parents cope with your absence?
– We were constantly in touch: they called and wrote me a lot. It helped me very much.
– Who is the toughest opponent for you in the league personally?
– It is very difficult for me to play against Ilya Popov from Runa. He is a very powerful guy, and very big. When he gets the ball under the hoop, it’s hard to stand against him. Also, perhaps, Sergey Balashov from Yenisei. He is also a very tough guy. As for the foreign players, it's definitely Jalen Reynolds. He has a lot of skills, and his physics is outstanding.
– You rarely throw mid-range shots and never – 3-pointers. Why?
– Because there always are more reliable options for continuing the attack (laughs). I play the way the team needs, as the coach told me to play.
– You remind Timofey Mozgov a lot. Do you dream of playing in NBA and becoming a champion there, as Mozgov did?
– I think, every basketball player would like to try himself in NBA. But let's be realistic: it is difficult, if not impossible, at the moment. And I don’t think it’s useful to dream of something distant. I'm at Loko now, and all my thoughts are connected with the club. As for Mozgov, thank you for the comparison, he was an example for me at some point. Mozgov achieved a lot in basketball, and his achievements inspired a lot of young players. And I’m just starting my journey in basketball.
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