Kirilenko has brought a number of current and ex-players into senior federation roles, including ex-Portland Trail Blazers forward Viktor Khryapa, who still plays in Russia, plus former WNBA players Ilona Korstin and Svetlana Abrosimov. Kirilenko is also close to the Russian Basketball League commissioner, Sergey Kushchenko, Prokhorov’s sports adviser and a member of the Nets board.
Since Kirilenko helped his national team win Olympic bronze in 2012, Russian basketball has gone into a tailspin. The national team is in danger of failing to qualify for next year’s Olympics and the sport is losing fans to the likes of soccer and ice hockey. But Kirilenko thinks he can help turn things around. “A couple of years ago, (basketball) was the fourth or third (most popular) sport; right now I think it’s seventh, something like that,” said the 6-foot-9 forward. “I want basketball to be popular and to be in every house in our country.”
Kirilenko faces resistance from some in the federation old guard and, with nationalist sentiment riding high in Russia, he has been criticized for having a U.S. passport in addition to his Russian nationality after becoming an American citizen in 2011 while with the Utah Jazz. “People who talk about that, they want to be picky, they want to find something that doesn’t fit a good profile,” he says. “I was born in Russia, the whole of my life I’ve been a Russian and I will die a Russian.”
Veteran Russian center Sasha Kaun embarked on a mini-tour of Cleveland on Monday, league sources informed Northeast Ohio Media Group. His visit was for the purpose of house hunting, among other things, sources said.