Alexander Kaun: Messina’s right when he criticizes us 6  november  2013

VTB United League
CSKA center Alexander Kaun, the VTB United League’s October MVP, gave an interview to Sport-Express.
The MVP is selected by VTB United League and Sport-Express experts, with each player’s efficiency rating also a factor. If players are tied on points, the expert rankings serve as the tiebreaker. That’s how Alexander Kaun defeated Tsmoki-Minsk center Keith Benson, who led the league in efficiency rating.

But Kaun’s biggest threat may have come from UNICS’s American newcomer, Andrew Goudelock. Andrew’s stellar performances didn’t come as much of a surprise, though, given he joined Kazan direct from the NBA and was expected to be a leader from day one. Kaun, on the other hand, outshone his more famous CSKA teammates and replaced Nenad Krstic as starting center, despite the fact that VTB United League clubs no longer need to enforce a limit on foreigners in games against other Russian teams. Kaun leads CSKA in scoring across all competitions (13.0 ppg, including 15.5 ppg in the VTB United League), which speaks volumes about his performance in October.

— Alexander, accept our congratulations on earning the VTB United League October MVP. Did you expect it?
— Thanks! To be honest, I didn’t expect it. My teammates played a big role in the fact that I won. I’d like to thank and congratulate them. I can’t say that I played my best basketball in October… The team’s still trying to figure things out. The CSKA old-timers, myself included, still haven’t gotten comfortable with the newcomers. With the arrival of Pargo, Fridzon, Hines, we should have more options on offense. But we aren’t reaching our full potential. We lack mutual understanding – which is why a lot of our games have been more of a struggle than necessary – see the games against Astana or VEF.

— When talking about the team’s issues on the court, CSKA head coach Ettore Messina isn’t shy…
— The team reacts fine to his criticism, however harsh it might sound at times. Messina, like no one else, wants us to reach our potential, which is greater this season than last. CSKA’s starting five was a lot better than the bench then, but now there’s very little gap. We just aren’t playing at full strength – maximum 60-70%. So Messina’s trying to fix the situation.

— Was CSKA affected by the preseason tour in the USA, where you played two very good games against NBA competition?
— You could feel the fatigue in the first week after our return. But now it’s all gone. And, in general, one tournament can’t ruin an entire season. Our win over Minnesota and minimal loss to San Antonio in overtime also had a positive effect on our own confidence. When you play like that with NBA clubs, you understand there’s nothing you can’t do in the Euroleague. Even if the game is completely different here.

— How do you feel about the fact that Messina has you, not Krstic, in the starting five?
— It’s a big honor to be CSKA’s starting center. But it’s more important to me that the team wins. And that it gives up as few points as possible, since my biggest responsibility on the court is to defend the basket.

— Judging by your current level of scoring (27 points against VEF!), you’re also very helpful on offense. Do you ever get on your teammates like CSKA captain Viktor Khryapa does?
— (Laughs). No, I can’t do it like Vitya does! I’m a different person, softer. I don’t like conflicts, even if they help the team. But encouraging the guys, bringing positive energy – that’s different. I do that whenever I can.

— Do you feel that you’ve noticeable improved compared to your first seasons with CSKA?
— I think that my game is definitely more versatile. I know a lot more about basketball now than I did when I played in the NCAA.

— In your opinion, who’s currently the best center in Europe and in the world?
— Marc Gasol and Dwight Howard are really good in the NBA. From Europe, I’d name Ante Tomic of Barcelona. Also, Krstic and Hines. Both are among the elites.

— Do you already consider yourself an elite European center?
— I’ll let others make that assessment. My goal is for CSKA to win. Preferably in all competitions. I don’t need anything else, not even individual prizes.

— Right now a lot of experts, after naming CSKA the undisputed Euroleague favorite at the start of the season, are starting to doubt their own predictions…
— We’ve had a rough start to the season – in the VTB League and in the Euroleague. In the Istanbul game against Fenerbahce we got stuck on individual play, which isn’t typical at all of a Messina team. But I’m confident that we’re moving in the right direction. Thanks to practices and VTB League games, where the quality is quite high, we’ll soon be at our best in front of our fans. Including in the Euroleague, which CSKA really wants to win.