Kirilenko Looking Forward To Return To Utah On Wednesday
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This will admittedly not be just another road trip for Andrei Kirilenko.
The Timberwolves will begin their two-game road trip against the Jazz in Salt Lake City, where Kirilenko spent his first 10 years in the NBA, learned the game and turned into the all-around player he is today.
Wednesday’s game against Utah will be Kirilenko’s first ever game against his former team, and it will take place in the same venue he called home for the first decade of his career. When he returns to Energy Solutions Arena, it will require a brief adjustment getting used to some of the nuances that come with returning to such a familiar place.
“I can’t imagine how I’m going to step into the Energy Solutions Arena and go to the guest locker room, not the home locker room,” Kirilenko said. “It’s going to be different, but I have a lot of friends, tons of friends from 10 years there. A lot of fans that I probably know. I probably know the first 20 rows around the arena. I know all the fans.”
No question, there will be memories that come along with returning to such a familiar place. It’s the city in which a young Kirilenko learned the NBA game from coach Jerry Sloan, forward Karl Malone and guard John Stockton. It’s the franchise he helped take to the postseason six times, and it’s where he earned his lone All-Star appearance in 2004.
Kirilenko said because of all those memories, his return this week won’t be overwhelming but certainly special.
“It’s a big deal—I learned a lot from there,” Kirilenko said. “Jerry is the guy who basically created me and gave me an NBA career, like, it’s a lot of good words about it.”
Wolves coach Rick Adelman said Kirilenko still mirrors the traits that came along with players who played in Sloan’s system.
“I think that whole team, the system and the way they did things, I think guys naturally get better,” Adelman said. “They always played hard for Jerry. His teams always played very hard, and AK has developed into a very good all-around player. Most of those years were under Jerry.”
As Kirilenko returns, he’s in the midst of posting some of his best numbers in years.
When the 2010-11 season ended and the NBA lockout was imminent, Kirilenko decided to spend the 2011-12 season in Russia playing for CSKA Moscow. He returned to the NBA this season with the Wolves, and he’s averaging the most points per game (13.3) and rebounds per game (4.8) since the 2005-06 season, his best assists per game (3.2) since 2007-08 and his best field goal percentage of his entire career.
But that portion of his career is over, and with the Wolves’ next three games against divisional rivals all within two games of one another in the Western Conference playoff race, this game against the Jazz has far greater implications than Kirilenko’s return to Salt Lake City. Still, it should be a memorable experience for a player who became synonymous with that franchise for a decade.
“I think I’m going to be fine,” Kirilenko said. “I’ve played in a lot of basketball games. I don’t think it’s going to be something different. It’s just going to be flow of the game. If you catch the flow early, it’s going to be easy.”