Soviet Life 第232—243期
East Siberian project
Russia and the American Revolution
The coach promises nothing, but…
The name of Vladimir Kondrashin invariably summons up a picture of the most dazzling achievements (also a few setbacks) of Soviet basketball in recent years. His biggest success, unquestionably, was drama-packed final with the traditional Olympic champs, the United States, in the 1972 Munich tournament. “I still feel shivers running up and down my spine,”says Kondrashin, “every time I think of those last three seconds, when Edeshko threw the ball the full length of the court to Alexander Belov, waiting there—and scoring a split second before the final whistle.”
The coach and his assistant, Sergei Bashkin, went through a disappointing period after the last Olympics. True, it didn’t happen right away: The Olympic victors continued to be applauded, following their victory in the 1974 world title tournament in Puerto Rico. However, in last summer’s European championships, Yugoslavia upset all the forecasts by defeating the USSR and running away with top honors.
Silver medals for their favorites were not acceptable to Soviet fans, who felt the national aggregation had changed, something was wrong. There was more reshuffling, this time it did some good. The USSR finished ahead of Brazil, Yugoslavia, Italy, the United States, Canada, Mexico and Greece in the intercontinental Cup (August 1975). Nevertheless, Kondrashin stubbornly repeats: “We still have many candidates who have to be put to the test before Olympic Games come up.”
However, there are only a few vacancies on the national team. In the opinion of the coaches, eight berths on the 1976 Olympic team are definitely filled (five of these men saw action in Munich). Here profiles on Kondrashin’s and Bashkin’s choices.
The first is top ace Sergei Belov, of the Moscow Central Army Club. He will be 32 by the Montreal games, but his age presents no problem to the national team mentors. Sticking strictly to training rules, Sergei shows the same jet speed and stamina that characterized his younger years. Though officially down on the scorecard as a guard (he is “only” 6 feet 2 3/4 inches). Belov is one of the best sharpshooters in Soviet basketball history. He is especially adept at middle-range shot.
Sergei was rated the best player at the 1970 Ljubljana world championships and the Munich Olympics. Kondrashin always feels sure that this assistant of his will rise to the occasion in crucial moments. The fellows don’t know a better team leader than Sergei to take them to victory.
The Alexander Belov (no relation to Sergei) has class in the hoop game is evidenced by an invitation he got to join the New Orleans Jazz pros. He is the first European to be approached but naturally declined the offer.
This 25-year-old amateur is a student at the Leningrad Ship-building Institute, stands 6 feet 6 3/4 inches in this stocking feet. That’s not very tall for a center, but he is well built, has an incredible spring, explosive speed, lightning anticipation and intuition—all of this helping him outplay and outwit taller fellows in aerial work. Admittedly, his performance is not as stable as Sergei Belov, mainly because he is quick-tempered and loses control of himself. When the temper subsides, however, there’s no holding him: He beats the opposing guards time and again. By the way, Kondrashin is coach of this club, too (Leningrad Spartak, the latest principal challenger of Central Army for national laurels).
Central Army guard Ivan Edeshko (age 30, height 6 feet 51/4 inches) is daring in attack tenacious in defense and really skillful in passing. He maneuvers well in unusual situations on the court, but experts believe that it would help if he kept a cool head at the same time.
Ivan’s clubmate, Alzhan Zharmukhammedov (31, 6 feet 9 1/2 inches). Is officially a center but actually does all the work of a forward. Notwithstanding his height, Alzhan gets around the court fast, dribbles expertly and nips under the rival basket with the agility of a youngster. The same style is shown by the last of the Five Munich 1972 Mohicans, Mikhall Korkiya, 25, height 6 feet 5 1/4 inches, a student at the Polytechnic Institute in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia. A typical product of the Georgian school of basketball, Mikhail prefers combination moves a top speed. He is good at improvising on the court although sometimes he crosses himself up by too much independent effort.
Another Central Army contender, Valeri Miloserdov, 24, was just a step or two away from selection for Munich. His place in the lineup is predetermined by his height, 6 feet 1 1/2 inches. It’s Valeri’s job to make the plays and dump in field goals from far out in the court. The biggest headache of all for Kondrashin and Bashkin is finding the right centers. They hope that Moscow Dynamo’s new regular center, Vladimir Zhigily (23, 6 feet 9 inches), will eventually be in a class with Alesander Belov: He is fast on the court, a high jumper, with sufficient staying power.
Roughly the same can be said about another center, two years younger and 3/4 of an inch shorter than Zhigily. The coaches like the persistence of the newcomer Anatoli Myshkin, trained in Sverdolovsk Uralmash (Urals Heavy Mashine-Building Plant) club, his reliability at practice and the pinpoint accuracy of his shots. He was top scorer in the USSR League last season. If nothing out of the ordinary happens, this octet will show up on the Montreal Olympic court. Meanwhile, an intensive search is going on for the men to fill the remaining berths.
The coaches are in no hurry to discount such former national squad members as Alexander Sidyakin, Mikhail Sliantyev, Sergei Eryomin and Yuri Pavlov. They will have to show, however, that they deserve to be reconsidered as against a fresh bunch of promising fellows, who may very well meet Olympic standards by the beginning of the games.
We should point out here that Vladimir Kondrashin is an expert at building a formidable team out of such material. He made a first class team out of Leningrad Spartak, a second rate outfit when he took over. There was one star Spartak player, and he is still the only one today, namely, Alexander Belov.
As the national team coach, Kondrashin has a far easier job: He is working with the best men in Soviet basketball, a sport played in our country by more than 3.5 million people and in which national championships have been staged now for more than half a century.
The man on the USSR team are of all nationalities—Russian, Georgians, Ukrainians, Byelorussian, Uzbeks and natives of Baltic republics. The national team, like the Soviet school of basketball in general, is a blend of Georgian temperament, Russian athletic prowess, Baltic logic and Ukrainian technique, to list some of the components. This accounts for the unusual character of the team and, ultimately, its strength.
It certainly will be a strong team in the coming Olympics, too. With the 1972 Olympic championship behind it, the team will have added confidence; the question is: Will it hold onto the honors won four years ago?
Indeed, as Kondrashin said, when he answered my question, there is no sense in hazarding a guess at this stage. Not much is known about the top rivals and, especially, about the U.S. team, which seldom keeps its original lineup from one Olympiad to the next. As mentioned above, the competition will be very sharp in Montreal, with more contenders for Olympic medals than in previous games. It’s Kondrashin’s opinion that, in addition to the usual favorites—the national teams of the United States, Yugoslavia, Canada, Brazil and recentely, Cuba-stiff opposition can be expected from the Italian, Spanish, Puerto Rican and, possibly, Mexican hoopsters.
What can be expected of the Soviet team in Montreal? Bashkin fully agrees with Kondrashin that their boys will hold strictly to their defensive style. The senior coach comments: “We’d like to see our opponents score no more than 65 to 70 points in a game, whereas we’d be perfectly satisfied if our fellows get the ball in every other short.”
“No predictions or promises from me.” That was the reply I got from Vladimir Kondrashin, coach of the Soviet national basketball team. I had asked him to venture an opinion on his boys’ chances in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. “We still have a lot of problems to deal with.”