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Сourse to the west

Having hardly risen on feet, this club started to take the first steps surely. And with such success that surprised all basketball public of the former Soviet Union, having made top clubs and well-known experts in this sphere speak about itself.
But the “Astana” basketball club doesn't intend to stop on the reached. Not all purposes are executed in VTB United League which as the native took in its family the team from Kazakhstan, and our club ambitiously declares the following steps of the its development way. There are no easy ways but if took a step, it is necessary to do the second. Such is the philosophy of capital club which quite resolutely looks now to the west. If not today, so tomorrow, not this season so in the following, the course to Europe will quite meet expectations of "Astana", Valery Tikhonenko, general director of the club is sure. And this will undoubtedly, be big break for all Kazakhstan sports. Today, when this club is one year old, Valery Alekseevich designates to us results which this year brought personally for him, shares plans of team for the future, and designates development prospects of the Kazakhstan basketball for the next years.
- Valery Alekseevich, tell us, please, exactly а year passed since in Kazakhstan the “Astana” club was created. What results personally for yourselves did you have after this year

- Today, perhaps, it is already possible to speak about results, and it is possible to say that they are rather powerful. First, we managed to create the real basketball club which begins its traditions from last year. The club, which could take part in prestigious competitions and also incorporate all structures – beginning from organizing finishing the team. Behind all this there is a large invisible volume of work. After all in fact, the club was created practically from scratch, anew. The office, team – gathered absolutely different players, both national, and the invited legionaries. And now with all of this the fact that VTB League didn't have a single claim to us – costs much. Basketball in Astana, in Kazakhstan came to another level, and now, after the lapse of this year, it is possible to set some bar from what it is possible to make a start further. Now we can speak about prospects which are quite real thanks to reliable partnership of the club with our sponsor of FNB "Samruk-Kazyna".

- A debut season is behind, now, probably, it is possible not to hide whether there was something that you were afraid before the season beginning? What caused in you the greatest experiences?

- These experiences now also don't leave us (laughs – author’s comment). But now they are concerning next season, preparation, trainings, and organizational questions. Certainly, most of all I worried on our participation in VTB League. Because, anyway, neither with my experience, nor with experience of the coach to make a team, worthy for competitions of such level – and I consider that we really made such a team, - it is very difficult, and to provide its worthy performance – absolutely other question. I don't want to belittle a level of our national championship, but basketball should go upward, and for this purpose players should participate in competitions of the international level. For us the VTB League became an ideal option, and I am glad that it happened. These probably were our main experiences. Though, you know, they were on each match – and on the first match in Kazan, and on the first house match opening, and in the subsequent games. When I saw that we can really fight against top teams.

- And before you didn't trust in it?

- Certainly, everything comes with experience, on time. We in any case plan, but appetite, as we know, comes to food time. It would be desirable a little bit honey then, certainly. When you put all heart and soul in it, the project becomes as the own child. And what it is I know perfectly. Such comparisons are very difficult, but they always go in front of me. Here, for example, a victory with "Zhalgiris" - I hoped, I assumed. But I even didn’t have it in thoughts that it will come so quickly. And when we won this game, we wanted to move forward. Nothing happens on magic. And at that moment I took a thought a little bit. What about? Very early there is a team formation. Very early. I passed through many teams, I know many stories, but I didn't see, that everything was at once. It, probably, also affected when we stopped in a step from play-off. We didn't have just one game. We had an advantage with all teams. But so the destiny disposed, as if speaking «children, it is a little bit early to come in a playoffs».

- You speak about many teams with which you worked. How our "Astana" differs from all of them?

- Differs, first, with basketball level. Because where I worked, level was a little higher, without speaking about level of the female national team. And here it was necessary to build everything again, the structure itself, whole team. Because at club level in Kazakhstan merits remained last century - in the late eighties and if to speak about the national team, it, probably, only in 2002-2003 when the national team of Kazakhstan took bronze on Asian games. Therefore to involve people, more precisely, to teach, how to go to it – was our main objective.

- Did you study quickly? Was it necessary to explain someone, repeat something anew?

- Yes there was this, certainly. But I am patient person though sometimes I start to blow up. That is interesting, few people work for us – only five people are engaged in providing club with everything necessary. Can you imagine, what mass of work these people do. And, these are people who mastered the work practically anew. Yes, there was some experience, but the club of such level itself was for the first time in Kazakhstan and consequently in any case studied everybody. We all still study. I consider that is uninteresting to live, when there is nothing to study. But one case when you have a base before new knowledge, and absolutely another – when you don’t. It was pleasant to me that on the fulfilled season the VTB League and Basketball Federation of Kazakhstan had no claims to us. We transferred the last game with "Khimki". I was very much upset, because our fans didn't see this game. Didn't see Euroleague team, team which won the Europe Cup this year. Again, probably, there is some sense in it: “Guys, probably you again run ahead of an engine, you already managed to do a lot this year”.

- And do not you think that this is for the better? After all to beat "Khimki" moreover and at their place – worth it?

- I will tell you more, we in the first game nearly won this team. We aimed at it, and didn't mask it. I was confident in it, and we won. It is a pity that our fans didn't see this victory. I agree that we don’t have yet such a big army of fans, a bicycle track in itself is a big construction, we are grateful to sponsors of team, city akimat that gave us the opportunity to train in a such modern sport center. Yes, let not always the audience comes to us. They still need to be learned. The biggest audience we had on а game with "Kalev" – 4200, on the same "Zhalgiris" – there were 2800 people. But we try to show our each match. "Khabar" who covers 98 % of the territory of Kazakhstan helps us with it, I think, very many watch our basketball. Also it is a pity that these people didn't see our victory, and didn't rejoice together with us as we rejoiced.

- Valery Alekseevich what for you is criterion of success – is it a list of victories over strong rivals or still that the team is created, it was recognized and it looks forward?

- It is one answer. I will speak honestly, all victories, all results – are done by team. And team as I already told, not only players. I am glad that we managed to create efficient collective, beginning from doctors, finishing coachers. I am happy that we could collect our office which works 100 %. Without people who do invisible around work, the victory would be weightless. Therefore this everything in aggregate is inseparably from each other.

- Let's talk about meeting. All of us know about official results – that the United League concluded the contract with Euroleague. What other results of VTB United League meeting can you tell us about?

- Naturally, the main is that VTB United League became a partner of Euroleague. It is very important point. For us, for BC "Astana" at this stage it is most likely a barrier, an obstacle which can affect us further. But for many European countries, for the Russian league that fact that VTB League could agree with Euroleague, that it got place in qualification in Euroleague – this means a lot. All top clubs aspire to it. We are still a little far from it. But we have something to aspire to. In the second, VTB United League became a tournament to which the status was given. It is now clear that there is an Euroleague, there is VTB League, and then there are national championships. The third – and this is very important to us – 20 teams will participate in the next season. There was a conversation on playing on circular system, but it is clear that such clubs as "Zhalgiris", "Lituvas Ritas", "CSKA", "Khimki" and others - for them there will be too big calendar with a large number of games, after all there are still Euroleague and Euro cup games.

Therefore the solution of division into two groups is made, as last year, in everyone on 10 teams. 18 teams which were since last season – everybody remains, including our club. What was especially pleasant to me that there were no conversations should the club exist or not, we became full participants of VTB United League. Two more teams will leave qualification. Among candidates there are clubs of Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia, and other countries. Lot will be in the middle of July, right after Euroleague lot. One more difference of this year is a playoffs. If last year there were only four teams, in it there are already eight. So the tournament becomes much more interesting, and much more favorable to sponsors. Teams can show more games. These are the main questions which were discussed at meeting. Also issues concerning foreign players were mentioned. But if in Europe there is no division how many foreigners should be in а team, in Russia it exists. But it is a prerogative of Russian teams therefore it wasn't discussed at meeting, it will be solved in Russia on PBL. By the way, the question of games translation to other countries was mentioned, everybody knew about our last game. And the position of the president of the league Sergey Borisovich Ivanov was very rigid in this regard, it supported club of Astana –how is that - fans of Kazakhstan didn't see the last game with "Khimki". He knows Kazakhstan, and it is pleasant that he supported us in this regard. Now if there is a display in regulations, a signal giving on the satellite, teams should provide execution of this point, give the picture. For non-performers there will be a punishment toughening, up to penalties. On this the technical aspect of future season was closed. Now all clubs wait more for lot. The VTB League championship will most likely begin from October 3 to October 10. Very much I hope for lot results, and that we will get into one group with CSKA that our fans will see this club. Certainly, it will be very difficult to resist them, but it would be desirable much to see the club in our land.

- And with what teams will it be desirable to meet again on a parquet?

- I will repeat that for us as the team being at the beginning of a way, regulations of carrying out games on circular system would be very interesting as we would see all teams. But we understand that while it is very difficult for the League. So our aspirations should go towards the European basketball. I say about club level. Now we carry on negotiations with FIBA of Europe to participate the next year in the Challenge Cup (the third important European basketball tournament after Euroleague and Europe Cup – author’s comment). We have already obtained permit from world FIBA, there is a permission from FIBA of Asia, it is necessary to obtain a permit of the European federation only. I don't think that we will be allowed to participate this year because such questions aren't solved quickly. But we should aspire to it and consequently we carry on negotiations. Our basketball should go on the European level. National level should remain in Asia, and on Asian qualifying tournaments to go on the World Cups, Olympic Games. I, by the way, see big perspectives of our national team in two-three  years - the national team can be output on the World Cup it is unequivocal. And as to BC "Astana" – we play in VTB United League, and now my task, as general director, consists in outputting the club on the European championships – if not this year so in the following it is exact.

- This means a course to Europe?

- Yes. In Asia tournaments of club teams of such level aren't held as in Europe. Yes, there individual types, such as fight, boxing are very developed, but at tournament level in a calendar there are no such tournaments. We can't be aloof, we need to develop.

- Does it mean, that even let in far, but the future – BC "Astana" will be able to meet on a pitch with such grandees of the European basketball, as "Real", "Barcelona", "Olympiakos"?

- These clubs are a highest step of to what we should aspire. I will give you a small example. The same Krasnodar "Locomotive" which was based before in Rostov, it only approaches to play in Euroleague - after the lapse of 8-9 years. We should go to it, should aspire, but we need at least something to begin with. At least with «Euro Challenger» – that is to perform and to show ourselves. Now, when there is an acquisition on the next season, we don't need to say that we will participate in VTB, we already participate there – the player thinks himself, how to show himself. And if you tell that you participate in Euro cup, so the relation to your club will be another. To any player, except a financial component, the sport component is interesting. A year didn't pass yet, and now team is very famous, in Russia even more than here. Sabonis visited us – arrived to look at team which beat his "Zhalgiris". Because it is a nonsense! Volkov, when I was sitting with him on a tribune – during the game with "Budivelnik" was surprised – said, whom did you bring, what a team, why do you win against me. Now we have a certain level. And we should support and lift it.

- What any other opinions or statements of your comrades and now rivals can you give about the "Astana" club?

- I have already led Sabonis and Volkov. Not a word, but may be - behavior. I remember the "WEF” coach's behavior Ramunas Butautas when they came to us in Astana. We know each other for very long time, played in a junior team of the Soviet Union, when we meet we always talk, speak. He came to me at the European Championships, when I was a coach of the women's team. At this time we met in a hotel for a cup of coffee, and he tells not to call him anywhere, because he came to play, and if I want to talk, he would wait for me in Riga. It was pleasant for me. His club had just come to us after the "Zalgiris" and possessed information about our team, so it was nice that he thought abaout this match as the match with a serious contender. By the way we lost to "VEF" for two times.

- Let's talk about the development of basketball in Astana, because after BC "Astana" there started a kind of chain reaction - school league develops, amateur teams play...

- I think that we are all counted just for this, because the basketball should develop and  "Astana" must be a kind of engine in it. And basketball has started to take its place in the city, in the country. Basketball began to be spoken about, became interesting. For example, before one of our games I was at the mall and heard a father talking with his child - a boy of eight or nine. He says something like: "Dad, today "Astana" is playing – Which "Astana"? - Basketball. Come on basketball. A child tell the father about this! For me it was nice. It is also gratifying to see when people go to games with children. It's nice that our club is doing a little national work.

- We heard that last season you wanted to hold one of the games of "Astana" in Almaty? Will you do that this season?

- Last year it was like an idea. It was very difficult to realize it. Nobody knew "Astana" at that time and there were questions on organizational issues. This year we will make every effort to hold a match in Almaty, hope for support of Kazakhstan Basketball Federation who supported us last season. I am sure we will hold it. Almaty is a basketball city.  And for our club would be useful to show ourselves in the southern capital, to win a new audience. I think we will find the opportunity that our city leaders and the city of Almaty will meet us halfway. In the sports palace named after B. Sholak in which I played, it will be possible to hold one of the matches of the club.

- And does the change of the city not contradict to the regulations of the City League?

- The VTB League in place of the column I'll simply specify also Almaty Sports Palace. I think we should agree with the VTB League

- Let's talk about our players - Kazakhstan. It's not a secret that it was the most difficult to engage in a new format to match it. How did they do it?

- I am glad that we have collected adequate kids, good athletes who want to train and want to learn. Starting from  Ponomarev who we took to Vladivostok. All the guys themselves were very willing to work at this level, all joined this work. For them it was also very difficult. It was difficult to Yargaliev Rustam, captain of the team to go to the next level, get used to the new names in the team, to change coaches - in fact permanent for many years Strebkov was replaced by a foreign coach. But they all went through it with dignity. And if at first a bit warily, then later - already with more confidence. But here I want to note - this is only the initial stage. It now seems that he is behind. No, they all just at the beginning. Individual, functional work is something to work for a long time in Europe and worldwide, we have only begun to pay attention to this. And successfully. Take for example our Rustam - he has added considerably to the muscle mass, became tendinous, like a sportsman. Great expectations have connected with our young players - Ilyin, Klimov. All of them are national team players. Klimov at first was involved only in the training process, at the end became a full-fledged player in the team. Pavel Ilyin had a great season it was waited from him, but he went even further! After the New Year, he "fired" from Samara so that was the leader of the team. And all of this together says about the coaching job. We invited the athletic trainer Alejandro Urritio, who knows how to raise children. But without their desire, we could hardly do it. The same Max Voyekov - went to one and a half minutes with  "Khimki", scored a very important 5 points, helped the team not to break. Fadeykin – during the season wants to progress, something he gets, something not. But he is constantly working on himself, although he has more experience than anyone else.

- Now are there players who offer you their services?

- No. There have been players who have shown interest. But we're not here to break the system of basketball and other clubs. I think it is wrong to give the player two times more than the club from Aktau gives, for example - it will only increase in the budget but no result. Therefore, we remain at the average wage. If we give the player a decent salary, and he does not agree we do not conclude a contract with him. There were such cases. But there are young players whom we want to see at ours’. Because young people is a perspective. We work on it. I think that we need now, as the air the second team. It all depends, of course on the budget of the club. Let this be a major league, let it be a national - and the composition will vary here from there, but behind Ponomarev, Yargaliev, Ilyin, Voyekov would be other guys who could take their place, if someone slows down. And anyway, even if a player leaves the other can safely takes his place.

-  Astana in fact already has a team of Major League "Tigers of Astana". Can it be such a team?

- I think it should be a single system, built pyramid,I can say. I try to support Kazakhstan's basketball, doing everything in my power, I cite experts, children's coaches, well-known judges. But when it comes to the same team - should be a structure, a system. They should be together, to train the same way, should carry out some tasks.

- Whom of the Legionnaires we can expect next season?

- I hope that these will be good players from the major teams. Recently we have signed two good centrals: Greek Andreas Gliniadakis and American David Simon. We carry a heavy laborious work on the selection of players, and hopefully it will give us the result. This year it is easier to talk with them, than last year. It is much easier. But we still somewhere have to make some concessions to invite a good legionnaire here.

- Do our Legionaries stay?

- Very difficult negotiations were with them. Very difficult. The first player with whom we have extended the contract was Roul Marshall. By the end of the season, he has remained the most productive player in the league, the most scoring player. Therefore, we decided to keep him, offered terms, and he agreed. Marshall realizes what is better for him. The important role played the fact that Mateo will continue to work with the team. By the way, BC "Astana", the first club for Marshall in which he plays more than one season. A major role in this decision is given to the city - Astana is a beautiful modern has everything you need as in Europe. Tough negotiations were with Jerry Johnson, I even began to worry for him, because I knew that this player will immediately be able to find a contract in Europe, and even financial matters there better than we do. And we keep Branko. Branko - a reliable player. He even went out immediately after the injury to the pitch, another in his place would refuse but he played. Good player! Luke Drcha, this season was for him a revelation. This is a perspective young player, who, believe me, in 5-6 years, will shine in the big teams - such as "Real", "Panathinaikos" and other legendary clubs. I am very proud of what our club has opened this player. A little sad to talk about Eric Williams, we would like him to stay. He is a bit hesitating. But this is sport, if there is not Eric, so there will be someone else.

- Valery Alekseevich, BC "Astana" attracted much attention and journalists. Tell me, were there any moments where your opinion was differ from the media?

- I am a public person, and always try to answer all questions. Sometimes, however, later in the press there is information that you're not saying or they pull a phrase out of context and it takes an entirely different meaning. These people are forgotten to me, I do not work with them. There were those who really did not understand basketball. When you say one thing, but they still do not understand, and seem to ask the questions. It's a bit weird. But mostly reviews of the basketball club were extensive, good, we work for this anyway. Even our website, too, became much more lively, we will rotate it further.

- Speaking of "phrases out of context," You are about the case with Matteo Bonichiolli and Kazhastan team?

- And this too. I myself learned about it from some publications, that the issue is solved and Matteo will be head coach of Kazakhstan team and BC "Astana" will be the main supplier of players for the team. But BC already works not only for the city, it works for the national team. There were similar conversations about Matteo, but never reached the semi-official organ, rather it had been suggestions, comments and discussion. So I do not know where it all came from. I would say more, he would agree to lead the national team of Kazakhstan, but again – we must provide everything necessary for him to achieve the results that will be waited from him. So we did it at the club. And here the same way - it is the conditions of training, financial issues, players and other charges. If required funding, I have already said that I am sure our team will get to the World Cup through the Asian Championship. But for this there must be at least one Olympic cycle. Project BC "Astana" was originally designed for three years. I do not know how long I'll be at the helm of the team, but it is important to continue to grow.

-Is  Matteo himself satisfied with the year spent in Astana?

- Very satisfied. Matteo is one of the few coaches who has been on the "final four" in Istanbul, and he was grateful to us for this opportunity. He was there and saw big basketball. He knows this basketball from the inside, as well as I do. Therefore, we are sailing in the same boat. After the season we signed him for another two years. This is a really good management job, if we were able to keep such a specialist as Matteo. This year we plan to change the composition of 10-20%, the core will remain the same. This is what should be the key to our future victories.

- Thank you very much for the interview!


Zhanar Utesheva

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