LONDON — Slashing to the rim, blocking shots and getting out in transition in Russia's first game of the Olympics, Andrei Kirilenko looked every bit the all-around force he was as a young man with the Utah Jazz.
"I feel great," Kirilenko said after scoring 35 points on 14-for-17 shooting against Britain on Sunday. "Look at me. I'm running like a young deer."
The only people happier with his performance than the Russians had to be the Minnesota Timberwolves. After skipping last season to play in his native Moscow, Kirilenko signed a two-year, $20 million contract with the Wolves on Friday.
Kirilenko will be bringing Russian teammate Alexey Shved with him to the Timberwolves next season. Shved had 16 points and 13 assists against overmatched Britain.
"If I'm the Minnesota Timberwolves, I have a big, fat smile on my face," Russian coach David Blatt said.
Speaking to American media for the first time since signing his deal, Kirilenko said he felt refreshed after deciding to stay home during the grueling NBA season that was compacted by the lockout. He played last season with CSKA Moscow and appears to have an extra bounce in his step after slowing down in the last of his 10 seasons in Utah.
"Last season in CSKA, I feel comfortable, I feel great at home," Kirilenko said. "I feel I should play at the highest level possible. If I'm not going back to NBA, I would probably feel sorry for myself over the next four or five years. I got a call, and it was a very, very interesting offer."
Kirilenko likened the Timberwolves to Rick Adelman's Sacramento Kings teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s, a free-wheeling group with plenty of Europeans like Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac playing prominent roles.
"For me, it looks like European flavor on the team," said Kirilenko, referring to Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, himself and Shved. "For me right now, it's pretty much the same type of team-building. A lot of European guys, a lot of guys who can run the floor. Alexey is another big, big plus."
Shved is a versatile combo guard who dominated the pace of play on Sunday, finding Kirilenko time and again for lob passes and backdoor cuts.
"I said prepare right now for Minnesota, that's how you're going to find me," Kirilenko said. "I think he's doing a good job. Last year we played together. We've got connection. He knows when I'm going to cut. I know when he going to start driving so I give him space. But we have to adjust to Rick's system anyway."
Having his Russian teammate, who has extensive experience in the NBA, with him in Minnesota for his first season should help ease Shved's transition to a new league and a new home.
Photo via Facebook/Andrei Kirilenko
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