Kirilenko Ready For Leadership Role, Eclectic Wolves Roster

by Mark Remme
Web Editor

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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The Timberwolves will have a collection of international players on their roster this season—that’s a fact. Players from Spain, Montenegro, Puerto Rico, Russia and the U.S. all on the roster will make for an eclectic mix of hardwood origins to say the least.

But this is nothing new to Andrei Kirilenko. Playing for his native CSKA Moscow last winter after leaving the NBA during the lockout, Kirilenko spent the year with two Lithuanians, two Serbians, two Americans and six Russians as teammates. He’s done eclectic basketball.

“Right now, basketball is so international,” Kirilenko said after his introductory press conference at Target Center on Friday. “We know each other from the different international teams and teams from playing before. It won’t be a problem to adjust to each other.”

Kirilenko is one of Minnesota’s new faces coming into the 2012-13 season, joining a team that brought back just seven of its 15 players from a year ago. There will be a lot of learning from one another as the group begins Training Camp next week in Mankato, but there will also be an elevated level of excitement. The Wolves’ new players, Kirilenko included, are a big reason for all the buzz surrounding the team heading into this winter.

President of Basketball Operations David Kahn introduced Kirilenko on Friday, and when he did he emphasized the type of skill set the 6-foot-9 small forward brings to the team. Kirilenko is a defensive gem, a former NBA All-Defensive First Team selection who was named the Euroleague’s Defensive Player of the Year last season with CSKA Moscow.

He said he’s guarded all positions on the basketball court throughout his career, and realistically in the NBA he is comfortable guarding shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards—from Kobe Bryant to Kevin Garnett.

“That was the kind of player that we felt we were lacking on our roster this past offseason,” Kahn said. “So we’re thrilled to have him. This is a very big acquisition for us.”

It will be a bit of a transition back to the NBA, given he missed a season and at 31 is returning to a league with small forwards like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony on the schedule. Still, Kirilenko said not going through the grueling 66-game condensed schedule like everyone else a year ago will work to his advantage. He was still able to play basketball on a professional level, and he tested himself again this summer with Team Russia, but he said he still feels refreshed making his return this season.

He’ll join the Wolves as the team’s most veteran player, only days younger than guard Luke Ridnour but with longer tenure in the NBA. He said he’s prepared to take on a role as a veteran leader, calling on his 10 years of experience with the Utah Jazz and following a similar role he had with Team Russia.

“I feel very comfortable in that position,” Kirilenko said.

He’ll soon be back on the court helping this Timberwolves team learn to play together, uniting internationally to try and achieve the lofty goals they’ve set for themselves.

Kirilenko understands the situation, both personally and as a team, and he’s not taking it lightly.

“I’m really looking forward to start playing,” Kirilenko said. “I miss one season in NBA, and getting back to this huge stage of basketball, it’s a big deal.”

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