Russia, the surprising Eurobasket winner of 2007 (yes, we can now say that it was a surprise) comes from a disappointing performance during the Beijing Olympics. An official 9th place was far below the expectations for a country with one of the strongest leagues in Europe.
And this strong league might also be one reason for the poor result. Even the rule that obliges the team to have one Russian native on the court is not producing the necessary results these days. With four superstars around, the Russian player does not have a lot of responsibility and the salaries of Russian players have not risen so much as to prevent nearly any player from signing with a foreign team at the moment.
But back to the Russian national team, a team that has a surprising number of veterans on its roster. Players like Nikita Morgunov, Petr Samoylenko or Zakhar Pashutin will probably not return to the national team in the future. On the other hand, coach David Blatt has also tried to integrate youngsters like Andrey Vorontsevich, but their impact was limited in Beijing.
The case of J.R. Holden is also distinct, as the naturalized American player is already 32 years old and will probably not stay with the team for another eternity. So there is a lot of room to fill with young players. But who are the young players that could join the squad in an era where Russian youth teams are no longer dominating competitions?
First of all, I would think of Anton Ponkrashov. The scoring guard could fulfill the Holden role, but in a different style. In general, the lack of a high-quality point guards should put the Khimki Moscow player in this role as soon as Eurobasket 2009. Another talented guard that should be a team member within a short period is Alexey Shved. The highly talented guard is like Ponkrahsov: not a pure PG but more of a scorer. A PG that could enter the national team in a few years, on the other hand, is Dynamo Moscow guard Dmitriy Khvostov. Khostov needs to gain more experience to deserve a NT job, however.
The wings are highly talented with Andrei Kirilenko and Viktor Khryapa. Besides the already added Vorontsevich, I could imagine the addition of somebody like Nikita Shabalkin or Nikita Kurbanov in the future. Also, a lot of observers await the development of Yaroslav Korolev, who is still only 21. But the forward position is not a big problem for the Russian coaches at the moment.
On the other hand, a prospect that needs to be followed more closely is the long Semen Shashkov. The 1989-born forward has a great combination of size and talent and is considered one of the best young players in Europe. But Shashkov currently lacks high-level experience and is herewith only a long-term prospect.
In the paint, there is still Alexey Savrasenko, but his injury this season hurt him more than expected and I can not see him continue through 2012 with the national team. Sasha Kaun may be interesting for the future but first of all we have to see how he adapts to FIBA basketball. Anatoly Kashirov is another candidate for this position but also here, the talent level is not as important as his size. The center position will definitely be the most difficult for Russia to fill in the future. All this would sum up the following possible roster for 2012.
Guards: Ponkrashov, Shved, Keyru, Bykov, Fridzon;
Forwards: Kirilenko, Khryapa, Kurbanov, Shashkov, Monya; (hint: by the way – the first letter of the first three guys is the first letter for our k1x&BallinEurope quiz)
Centers: Kaun, Kashirov.