Legendary Ukrainian basketball player Alexander "Sasha" Volkov, together with Sarunas Maciulionis, were the first European players who had a chance to open the door to the NBA. Volkov, who averaged 6.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 149 games, spent his two-year (1989-92) NBA career with the Atlanta Hawks. After a short NBA career, Volkov went back to Europe and played for powerhouses Olympiacos Piraeus and Panathinaikos Athens.
Now Volkov, the former Ukrainian Minister of Sports, is concentrated on developing Ukrainian basketball and helping their national team, who will face Slovenia, Russia, Georgia, Bulgaria and Belgium, prepare for the upcoming EuroBasket 2011.
RealGM: What are your impressions of the EuroBasket 2011 draw?
Volkov: It is a great event. I would like to say thanks to Lithuania basketball federation from all additional teams because they made that push to make eight countries happy. I always knew that Lithuania is a European capital of basketball and after this draw ceremony, there is no doubt about that. Nothing like that has ever happened before. Our dream was to come and play in this championship. I am very happy that we will participate in this tournament. We are in the group that gives us theoretical chances to move on forward.
RealGM: Do you remember those days when you came to the States to play for the Atlanta Hawks? How hard it was for you to leave Europe at that time?
Volkov: I remember those days. Of course we were very excited at that time, because together with Sarunas Marciulionis we were the first NBA players from Europe. The first couple of months were really tough especially because of the new life system. I personally started to feel like a part of the NBA. It was a great experience. It was something special. And we both knew that after we finished our careers we could go back to our countries and use our experience to help develop basketball in our own country.
RealGM: What are your best memories from playing in the NBA?
Volkov: There were many good days. First practice, first minutes, first two points. I remember that happening in Boston Garden against the Celtics. There are a lot positive emotions and of course I remember them all. I played against all the NBA stars -- Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone -- it was a great period of basketball. By the way, now I can tell you that we are negotiating with Mike Fratello, who was the coach of Atlanta Hawks at that time, to be the new head coach of Ukrainian national team and it could happen any day.
RealGM: In your opinion, what does Ukrainian basketball need to be improve to be able to compete with the European strongest national teams?
Volkov: We need to do what every country did to receive success. First of all we need to have higher level coaches. We have to bring up the new generation of young and strong coaches and create a system, where young players could develop. That is exactly what we are doing. Of course it takes time but I already see potential in Ukrainian basketball.
RealGM: What did you do after you finished your professional basketball career?
Volkov: I was invited to be a minister of sports. Then I was involved in developing Ukrainian basketball. I built a new team BC Kyiv and we built a new league. Now I am a member of parliament and I am quite busy.