Khimki Moscow Region GM Pavel Astakhov summed up the season and said about club's future steps in the context of a coronavirus pandemic.
On finishing the EuroLeague season
“We were prepared for any outcome. I believe that the EuroLeague made a balanced and only correct decision in this situation. Now the health of people is in the foreground, and in the current situation, it was dangerous to resume the championship”.
“We are all well aware of the current epidemiological situation in the world, and it is different in each country. Representatives of different countries play in the EuroLeague, and technically it would be difficult to implement the proposed plan: to gather all 18 teams in one place, so that they pass the quarantine, then pratcice for several weeks, and then finish the championship. Everyone on the spot would have to take tests for the coronavirus, and what if someone else tested positive?”.
“We have been in touch with the EuroLeague all the time since the season stopped. We were constantly asked for information about the situation in the country and the club. After analyzing the data from all the teams, the League reached a verdict”.
“The tournament was stopped for reasons beyond the control of the clubs. This is a global problem. Therefore, I think it is right not to remove anyone or add anyone, to play the next season with the same teams”.
On finishing Russian Championship without a winner
“As we have thought earlier and continue to think now — 80 percent of the games have already been played in the VTB United League. Not 30, not 50, but 80. Therefore, it would be reasonable to fix the standings and assign the title of champion, silver and bronze medalists according to the position of the teams at the time of stopping the competition. But since the majority of clubs voted to end the season, but not to determine the champion and runners-up, we must comply with this decision. As for the RBF, in my opinion, they followed the same was as they fixed the current classification, without awarding the title of champions. This is the right of the Federation, if they decide so, we will accept it, and in the next season we will prove that we are the best”.
On the life in quarantine
“We followed all the recommendations of the Moscow Region authorities. As soon as the decision to close all sports facilities was issued, the practices were stopped. And almost on the same day, the US State Department called on all its citizens to return to their homeland, otherwise they would remain in other countries under personal responsibility. I had a long and difficult conversation with our foreigners. I thought I couldn't stop foreigners from leaving. What if one of them gets infected? And as it turned out, we were right.”.
“As soon as the recommendations for self-isolation were announced, all the players fulfilled them. Someone is sitting in a city apartment, someone in the summer cottage. Our strength and conditioning coach sent them a training program, and the players trained to the best of their ability. Plus the doctors of the club have been constantly monitoring the situation. But thank God, no one had serious health problems. Of course, everyone hoped for the continuation of the season, but it did not work out. Now the basketball players are on vacation”.
On the 2019/2020 season
“The season for Khimki turned out to be difficult and uneven. There were both positive moments and failures. But in general, at the time of the season's suspension, we were fulfilling the goals set before it started. We were confidently leading in the VTB United League, and in the EuroLeague we were seventh, that is, in the playoff zone. If we take these results, we can say that the season was successful. It is a pity that we could not finish it”.
On the 2019 offseason transfer campaign
“It was our strongest roster in the club's history. We have really picked up players who are able to reach the highest goals. And it's really a pity that we didn't see what the team is capable of in the key games. It is no secret that the team lives in basketball, in fact, for one season. At least one or two players change clubs every year. And often it is five, six, and seven people. So it would be very interesting to see what we would achieve”.
On best Russian players in the team
“We didn't pay much attention to it at first. But then we realized that we were actually returning the best Russian players from the NBA to their homeland. So it was with Shved, and with Mozgov. We really want strong domestic basketball players to play here, because we consider this important. A Russian, if he is of a high class, should get playing time and please not only our fans, but also everyone in the country who is interested in basketball”.
On coach Rimas Kurtinaitis and his staff
“Rimas Kurtinaitis is a special coach for our club, and his name is associated with great success. His contract is valid for another season. Of course, in the course of work, there were disputes and mutual dissatisfaction. But we manage to overcome this and move forward step by step”.
On team chemistry
“The process of building a new team is always complex. Newcomers come, even if they are extra-class, and there are veterans who play basketball as well. And they do not always manage to find a common language immediately. The role of the coach and the club's management is very important here, they try to level the differences and make sure that everyone understands what the team's goal is and what places we want to occupy. This usually takes at least two to three months. Although we also know examples when championship teams are built over the years. A backbone is created, to which one or two players are gradually added, and the team reaches the desired level. But professional sports are interesting because no one knows when this moment will come. Again, you can invite ten superstars, give them a champion coach of everything, and not the fact that such a team will win anything. This is a living organism, people quarrel, make up, make claims, demand something. And here is who with this better copes, the and becomes champion”.
On a key game in 2019/2020 season
“This happened just before the EuroLeague was stopped. For example, the game against Milan in the EuroLeague was indicative. A great opponent, strong players, Ettore Messina on the coaching bench, but we won with confidence and secured a place in the playoff zone. It was clear that many of the guys put their personal grudges and ambitions aside, and the team began to function as we saw with head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis. I used to say that we should gain momentum in late February or early March, and it turned out that way. It should have been better, but we will never know”.
“There were injuries, but who didn't escape them? At the same time, by the time the games were suspended, all the players, with the exception of one, were already in the ranks. This is due to the increased number of games — constant flights, sometimes there is not enough time even for rest and recovery. But basketball is a contact sport, and many players are injured due to fatigue”.
On Timofey Mozgov
“At the time of the stop of the championship, he was practicing with the team and was expected to return to the floor in the near future. Of course, he didn't completely heal his knee, and probably never will. But when a player works with everyone and performs the exercises that the coach gives, it means that his functional condition is already normal. I think that already in the 20s of March Timofey would have already come to the site. For us, this would be a strengthening of his position. According to doctors' forecasts, he could play until the end of the season”.
“We hope that Mozgov will continue his career in Khimki Moscow Region. Because a lot has been done for his recovery — both by the player himself, and by the club, our doctors. And of course, we want all these efforts to be implemented on the floor. As far as I know, he is also determined to stay. But on the other hand, no one can say what will happen after the current long pause”.
On Alexey Shved's contract
“Of course, we want Alexey Shved to stay, even for more than one season. He is the best Russian basketball player at the moment, and we are proud that he plays in our club. Preliminary negotiations with his representatives have already taken place, now much will depend on the player's opinion. For sure, there will be demand for him in the market, offers from other teams. But knowing Shved for a long time, I can say that now the amount of the contract is not so important for him as the role in the club. We have an absolute leader, and everyone understands this. I hope that Alexey will analyze everything and stay, because they do not look for good from the good. But at the same time, I understand that we are working in a competitive environment, and there will be those who can also promise a lot in various aspects”.
On stopping of the club's activities
“For any person, the inability to do what he or she loves causes a kind of devastation. In addition, it is unclear how this situation will affect the partners of the clubs, because all spheres of human activity have suffered — business, from small to large, and the government as well. The situation is difficult, and I think we will all get out of it for a long time. But at the same time, professional sports can become a certain motivation for people to return to normal life — games will start, fans will follow them, get emotions, and we will try to make them positive. At the same time, according to the situation in the economy, I do not rule out that we will see a reduction in clubs' budgets, and salaries of players and staff”.
On the 2020 offseason plans
“Selection work does not stop here for a year. Kurtinaitis and I exchange opinions and watch the players who can strengthen us. But it is not quite correct to talk about specific goals yet. We have just learned that we will stay in the EuroLeague for the next season, so it is clear that we have no right to reduce the level of competitiveness of the team. Now we need to understand whether we can confirm our vision with a budget”.
On playing at Mytishchi Arena
“For us, Mytishchi Arena has long been a second home. We have great support from the fans in Khimki and Mytishchi. Of course, we will spend most of our games there next season as well. At the same time, I will say that sooner or later we want to get a permanent EuroLeague license, and this means a gym with at least 10000 seats, whereas in Mytischi you can make a maximum of 7500 at basketball. This is why we were negotiating with the new VTB Arena, where the VTB United League's All-Star Game was held this season. We even played the opening game of the domestic season with Zielona Gora. But there are certain difficulties associated with loading the stadium — in addition to the games of the hockey Dynamo, there are a lot of concerts, shows, and business events. And they can't guarantee us in advance the dates on which we play EuroLeague home games. For now, we consider VTB Arena as a backup”.