Ukraine and The Czar

Over the weekend I joined the Ukrainian delegation in Munich, Germany to support their bid to host the FIBA European Basketball Championship in 2015. The campaign was truly a team effort.

Sports and entertainment marketing specialist Impact34 worked with the Ukrainian Basketball Federation to deliver the proposal, and Our Agency assembled the hardcover bid book. National Olympic Committee President Sergey Bubka (the legendary pole vaulter who won six consecutive IAAF World Championships and Olympic gold in 1988) fronted the bid. Deputy Prime Minister Boris Kolesnikov made the trip to Munich to demonstrate the Ukrainian government’s commitment, while AeroSvit Airlines volunteered to transport the players during the tournament.

Sasha Volkov and Sasha Larin both worked unbelievably hard to make this happen. Thanks to the tremendous support they received, and perhaps in part the candle I lit for them at the cathedral, they succeeded. On Sunday FIBA Europe President Olafur Rafnsson announced the Board’s decision to award Ukraine the bid. It was a great moment for the country and for Ukrainian basketball. No doubt staging this prestigious tournament will help Ukraine in its endeavor to become one of the European powerhouses.

Now the hard work begins. This is going to be a massive undertaking. 180 million euros will be allocated for preparations for EuroBasket 2015, including the building of new hotels, the construction of three new arenas and the re-developing of four existing arenas.

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Ukraine and The Czar

Video coordinator Daisuke Yoshimoto aka Dice was the first member of our coaching staff to arrive in Kiev. We visited three potential practice facilities in order to determine which would be the best for our workouts with the Ukraine National Team members scheduled to arrive this week. After finishing up some more work on the playbook we had dinner at a great Japanese restaurant named San Tori in honor of Dice’s arrival.

We set up at the hotel restaurant for Tuesday’s first team meeting. That evening Ukrainian basketball player Oleksiy Pecherov, who played with AJ Milano in Italy this past season, dropped by the Goodman Steak House to say hello. Afterwards we took a stroll through Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), the city’s central plaza and a hub of public political activity in Kiev. Dice snapped a picture of me in front of the towering monument to the protecting Slavic goddess Berehynia, which was erected in 2001.

Bulls assistant coach Ed Pinckney and Knicks assistant coach Kenny Atkinson arrived the following day. A veteran of the NBA, Pinckney helped coach Chicago to the best record in the East this year and famously led the Villanova Wildcats to the NCAA title over the heavily favored Hoyas in 1985. Atkinson played professionally in Italy, France, Germany and Spain from 1991 to 2004 and brings his invaluable international experience to our bench.

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Ukraine and The Czar

On my second day in Kiev I woke up to thousands of protesters rallying outside the Verkhovna Rada building prior to the parliamentary vote on a pension reform bill, which wound up passing. That afternoon Sasha Volkov and I took a private plane from Kiev to Odessa so we could watch the Ukraine Under-25 National Team practice. Later we found an Italian restaurant for dinner, so I felt at home right away.

On Friday we had two workout sessions with six of the Ukraine National Team players who joined us in Odessa to start getting ready for the upcoming training camp. We caught another Under-25 practice before flying out to Crimea for Saturday’s celebration of President Viktor Yanukovych’s 61st birthday.

The following morning I woke up and drove from the resort town Alushta to President Yanukovych’s summer home in Foros along with Sasha Volkov, Sasha Larin, Slava Medvedenko and the captain of our Ukraine National Team Sergei Lischuk. We had the honor of meeting President Yanukovych and presented him with a birthday gift. Before catching our return flight to Odessa we made another stop to watch Sasha Volkov’s daughter Alexandra practice at the rhythmic gymnastics training camp. She is only twelve years old and already stands 5’9” tall – wow! It was evident that Alexandra inherited her father’s athleticism and is going to be something special.

Afterwards we flew back to Odessa to watch the Under-25 Team practice again. We also had an opportunity to take in some of the local sites before returning to Kiev. We visited the famous Potemkin Stairs (officially known today as the Primorsky Stairs), which were originally constructed from 1837–1841 and are now comprised of 192 stairs with ten landings. Considered a formal entrance into the city, the steps were made famous in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film The Battleship Potemkin. I also got a photo with Ivan Martos’s statue of Duc de Richelieu, who served as Odessa’s governor between 1803–1814 and is considered one of the city’s founding fathers.

On Sunday I slept in and grabbed a late brunch with Sasha Larin and his son Zjenya, an outstanding young man who just came home after studying abroad in Boston, MA for six weeks. After brunch I returned to the hotel to set up a new flat screen and DVD player in our meeting room in order to prepare for the arrival of my assistant coaches. Then I caught a 5:00 PM mass in Polish since I had missed the earlier service that was in English. When mass ended I walked for about an hour back to my hotel, showered and joined Sasha Volkov for dinner at his neighbors’ home. By the end of our food and wine-filled evening I was ready to turn in, but had to spend some time working on the team playbook before bed.

On The Road with Mike

I landed in Kiev, Ukraine at noon today to begin preparations for the 2011 European Championships. By chance I met Ukrainian rock star Svyatoslav “Slava” Vakarchuk on my flight to Kiev. The lead singer for the band Okean Elzy is one of the most successful musicians in the country.

Turns out Vakarchuk is also a big basketball fan and likes to play pickup games with Sasha Volkov, a former player of mine on the Atlanta Hawks and the current President of the Ukraine Basketball Federation.

After checking in to my hotel, I went to get fitted for practice gear. Then I had a little free time to unpack and take a nap before dinner. We ate at a very nice Italian restaurant and turned in early to rest up for our big day tomorrow as we will fly out to see the Ukraine Under-25 National Team practice near Odessa.

On the Road with Mike

Sasha Volkov and I ran into the current WBC World Heavyweight Champion Vitali Klitschko at the airport in Kiev. Both Vitali and his brother Wladimir Klitschko (IBO, WBO, IBF and “The Ring” World Heavyweight Champion) compete for the Ukraine and have become international sports stars. Can’t wait to check out the documentary film titled Klitschko which examines their lives and accomplishments.