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Olympics: Former Utah Jazz player Andrei Kirilenko scores 35 in Russia blowout

Published July 29, 2012 5:01 pm

Olympics • Ex-Jazzman leads home country to win over Great Britain.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

London • Let one thing be clear: Andrei Kirilenko does not like rumors.

So don't bother asking if, after a year away from the NBA, he gave any thought to re-signing with the Utah Jazz before signing a reported two-year, $20 million deal with Minnesota last week.

"I'm not commenting on other teams," he said. "I don't [want] people to start speculating."

But here's fresh buzz that can be backed up with evidence: The former Jazz forward is playing like the old Kirilenko, not the aging Kirilenko Utah fans last saw in 2011.

"I feel great," said Kirilenko, 31, who on Thursday signed a two-year contract with Minnesota. "Look at me, I'm running like a young deer."

Can a deer shoot 3-pointers? Heck, can Andrei Kirilenko?

At least one. A 3-pointer was just part of the dizzying performance Kirilenko put on Sunday night in Russia's opening-round game of the London Olympics. He scored 35 points on 14-of-17 shooting to lead his country to a 95-75 victory over Great Britain.

Kirilenko was spinning, converting three-point plays, dunking off the dribble and via alley-oops. He was knocking down jumpers. And he played defense: steals, blocks, including one on a 3-pointer.

What Andrei giveth, Andrei taketh away.

Of course, one must be careful with excitement. This was a game that made NBA washout Pops Mensah-Bonsu look like a star (22 points, nine rebounds for Britain).

Still, Kirilenko, wearing No. 15 and playing alongside future T-Wolves teammate Alexey Shved, seemed far from the injury-plagued seasons that doomed his time in Utah. The one-time All-Star did not play in more than 67 games any one of his last three seasons in Utah. His productivity dipped, and he became less of a playmaker. After 10 seasons, he returned to Russia and played for CSKA Moscow.

Then, Minnesota general manager David Kahn and coach Rick Adelman called.

"I wanted to get back to playing in the NBA," Kirilenko said, "because last season in CSKA I feel comfortable, I feel great at home, but I feel like I should play at the highest level possible."

Enter the Timberwolves, who in the lockout-shortened season finished 26-40 and 24 games out of first place in the Western Conference.

Kirilenko said he likes the European feel of the Timberwolves, with Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, and that he admired Adelman's Sacramento Kings in the early 2000s.

Beyond what Minnesota provides, however, Kirilenko said it was most important that he return to the NBA.

"I'm not going back to NBA I'd probably be feeling sorry for myself after four or five years," he said. "I got a call, and it's a very, very interesting offer."

boram@sltrib.com

Twitter: @oramb —

Andrei giant

• Former Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko scored 35 points to lead Russia past Great Britain, 95-75.

• Kirilenko signed a contract with Minnesota last week reported to be worth $20 million over two years.

• Russia next plays China on Tuesday in pool play of Group B.