For Kirilenko, it's back to Utah where it all came together

  • Article by: DENNIS BRACKIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 2, 2013 - 3:53 PM

The Wolves forward admits it will be "a little bit special" returning to Utah, where he spent a decade developing into a stalwart player.

The mental imagery seems almost surreal to Andrei Kirilenko as he contemplates his first game in Utah as an opposing player.

Walking past the home team locker room, into the unfamiliar guest surroundings. Taking the court against former teammates and friends. Seeing dozens of recognizable faces in the crowd at Energy- Solutions Arena.

"It's going to be different,'' Kirilenko said before leaving for Wednesday's game. "I have a lot of friends, 10 years there. I probably know everyone in the first 20 rows around the building, all the fans. It's life .... It is what it is.''

What it is, Kirilenko freely admits, is anything but just another game. Kirilenko spent his first 10 NBA seasons with the Jazz before returning to his native Russia to play during last year's lockout. After a year away from the NBA, he signed with the Timberwolves in July.

"It's a little bit special game, not just another game,'' he said. "It's really going to be overwhelming.''

Not that anyone expects the emotions to show in Kirilenko's game. His steadiness, all-around offensive skills and attention to defense have been the glue that so far has held a young Timberwolves roster together.

He is, very much, a product of Jerry Sloan's Utah system. Sloan was Kirilenko's NBA coach for the first 9 1/2 seasons, before a coaching change midway through 2010-11 that saw Tyrone Corbin take over.

Wolves coach Rick Adelman says he sees Sloan's influence in Kirilenko's game very clearly.

"They always played hard for Jerry. His teams always played very hard,'' Adelman said. "And A.K. has developed into a very good all-around player, and most of his years were under Jerry.''

It is fitting that Kirilenko could pass two notable career milestones at Utah. The 6-9 forward needs two steals to reach 1,000 for his career, and four rebounds to reach 4,000.

His career, Kirilenko says, is a mostly a product of what he learned in his early years in Utah. He came into the league playing alongside future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and John Stockton. And of course, for Sloan, the legendary coach.

"Jerry is the guy who basically created me, gave my NBA career life,'' Kirilenko said.

From Malone and Stockton he learned about leadership, and how it can come in totally different forms.

"I have always said I have seen two different examples [of leadership] in front of my eyes, in John Stockton and Karl Malone,'' Kirilenko said. "Karl always has been a forceful leader ... really intimidating ...very hard on teammates trying to motivate them.

''It was the opposite with John Stockton. He was quiet, always leading by example, fighting and diving for the ball. But quiet in the locker room.

"Two different approaches to the game. So you see how both approaches work.''

Kirilenko eventually took on a leadership role, first with the Jazz and now with the Timberwolves. At age 31, he knows exactly who he is.

"I think I'm more John Stockton,'' he said. "I don't like to talk. I don't know why -- probably because I'm not really good in English.''

The Jazz, with Malone and Stockton leading the way, reached the Western Conference finals in Kirilenko's first two seasons. With both retired in 2003-04, the Jazz surprised almost everyone by going 42-40, but they missed the playoffs by one game. That 2003-04 team, Kirilenko says, reminds him of these Timberwolves in its tenacity and spirit.

"We fight so hard, and we didn't make the playoffs by one game,'' he said. "You play 82 games, and you don't make the playoffs by one game? Are you kidding me? ... Right now, we're kind of in that situation. You know, a couple games could cost you the playoffs.''

That is the reason, Kirilenko said, the emotions accompanying tonight's game will not get in the way of what's important: a victory that he knows all too well could make the difference between playoffs and no playoffs.

"I think I'm going to be fine,'' Kirilenko said, smiling. "I've played a lot of basketball games, and I don't think it's going to be any different [once the game starts].''

Then, like every game he plays, he'll tap into all those lessons he learned as a member of the Jazz.

  • related content

  • Preview: Wolves at Utah

    Tuesday January 1, 2013

    Preview: The Wolves play the first of back-to-back road games against Northwest Division rivals, traveling to Denver on Thursday night. The Wolves are coming off a homecourt victory over Phoenix...

  • Bad back keeps Rubio off 2-game road trip

    Tuesday January 1, 2013

    In a span of 48 hours, The Wolves will make flights to Salt Lake City, Denver, then back to Minneapolis, in addition to playing two basketball games. Not the sort...

  • Andrei Kirilenko

  • WOLVES Up next: 8 tonight at Utah • TV: FSN (830-AM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

San Francisco - M. Bumgarner 7:07 PM
Pittsburgh - E. Volquez
Minnesota 10/2/14 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Dallas
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Denver
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
Washington
Washington 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Carolina 6:00 PM
Columbus
Pittsburgh 6:30 PM
Detroit
Montreal 7:30 PM
Chicago
Arizona 8:00 PM
Edmonton
Fla Atlantic 10/2/14 6:00 PM
FIU
UCF 10/2/14 6:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 10/2/14 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Syracuse
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Army
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Maryland
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Indiana
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Texas
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Clemson
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Colorado
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rutgers
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rice
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Kentucky
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Virginia
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Is Paul Molitor the best choice to manage Twins?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close