As the Portland Trail Blazers plot for next week's draft, one of their top choices from 2004 is coming off a frustrating season in Russia where he was glued to the bench for Central Army Sporting Club Moscow (CSKA).
Sergei Monya, one of Russian basketball's future hopes, spent the last year of his contract with CSKA Moscow out of favor with coach Dusan Ivkovic, as the coach opted instead to play the European powerhouse club's well-traveled American veterans.
Monya, a 6-foot-8 swingman with a sweet stroke and a taste for gorilla dunks, performed soundly during his modest floor time in the Euroleague. He averaged 6.9 points and 3.2 rebounds on 54.7 percent shooting from the field while playing less than 14 minutes per game against Europe's premier competition. He also provided much-needed energy off the bench several times for CSKA, which won its third straight Russian championship but was upset last month in the semifinals of the Euroleague Final Four.
Monya sat down recently at the Starlite Diner, a kitschy American burger joint in Moscow, to nurse a strawberry milkshake while talking about last season and how he's itching to join the Blazers and play with his close friend and Russian national teammate Viktor Khryapa.
WW: What did you make of this past season?
Sergei Monya: For the most part, it was negative. For some reason, the coach didn't trust me, even though when I did play, everyone said I played well. It was probably a mistake that I didn't go to Portland after last season. If I had known it was going to be like this, I would have done everything I could to leave. I took it really hard. In practice, I proved that I deserved more playing time than I received. And the coach never sat down with me and explained why I wasn't playing.
Doesn't it make sense to let the more experienced players play?
If that was the case, I wish they would have told me ahead of time so I could have gone to Portland and practiced and played with the team and improved my game.
So what's next?
I'm waiting to see if I can sign a contract with Portland and then hopefully go over as quickly as possible to play in the summer league. I want to test my skills there, but a lot will depend on whether or not there is a lockout. If there is a lockout, I'll just have to wait and keep working out and staying in shape.
Was it frustrating to be on the bench in Russia while the Blazers ended last season doing just the opposite as CSKA-benching the veterans to play the youngsters?
Yeah. I think I might have been able to play at least as many minutes in the NBA as I did for CSKA.
Did you and your buddy Viktor Khryapa stay in touch this season?
We talked on the telephone about twice a week.
What did he tell you about life in the NBA?
He told me about some of the differences between playing in Russia and in America. In Russia, the team is always forced to do things together, like always having team meals. He said it wasn't like that in Portland-that NBA teams trust their players to be on their own. He also said the game was a lot faster, a lot more athletic.
What do you know about Portland as a city?
I was there all of two days last year and was in the area [in Tualatin] where they have their training camp. They drove us around town in a big limousine, and I got to see a little bit of the city. It was really beautiful.
Did you know Portland has a large Russian-speaking community from the former Soviet Union?
Yeah. Viktor told me there are lots of Russians there. He said he's already made a lot of Russian friends.
Will you miss Russia at all?
I'll probably miss Russia to a certain degree, but after three years in Moscow, it's time for a change. Plus, Viktor told me that there are so many games and you're on the road so much, that really there's not enough time to spend missing Russia.
Do you know the last time the Blazers won a championship?
It was a long time ago. That's all I know.
It was in 1977. Do you know who the star of that team was?
Actually it was Bill Walton. Do you know who he is?
Oh yeah. Walton. His kid plays for the Lakers now, right?
Carl Schreck is a reporter for the English-language Moscow Times.
The Trail Blazers have the third pick in this year's NBA draft June 28.
The Blazers drafted Monya with the 23rd pick last year in the first round.