July 12, 2012
Sasha Kaun (Men's Basketball) 2004-08
Kaun was a memorable 6-11 center from KU's 2008 NCAA National Championship team and became the first Jayhawk men's basketball player to compete in the Olympics since Danny Manning in 1988. The Russian native will compete in the London 2012 Olympic Games as a member of the his country's national men's basketball team July 27-August 12. Russia qualified for the 2012 Olympics by finishing in the top three of a tournament in Caracas, Venezuela, last week. Following the event, Kaun flew to Kansas City to visit family and friends before reporting back to Russia to prepare for London.
What are you most looking forward to in competing in the Olympics?
"I think the opening ceremony will be fun. Some other sports competitions will be also fun, maybe some of the track and field. I will enjoy watching Igor (Vinichenko of Russia) in the hammer throw because I think those are some of the fun events to watch. But (I will be) just enjoying the Games and trying to win because obviously that's what we are going for there for. It's going to be exciting."
How did it feel when your team finally qualified for the Olympics?
"It was such a good feeling to become part of something big like the Olympics, but there was definitely a lot of pressure. It's a very weird time because it's so quick, only six days, and you have to win four out of five games. You have to win pretty much the first three then you have two chances to make it. When you play, again because it's so quick, there is no room for any error. You've got to win and then you move on. It was really tough. But I'm really glad that we played well and we played together and we ended up being one of the top three teams."
Have you ever been to London? What do you know about it?
"Actually I have not been to London; it's probably one of the few European cities or countries, that don't have much basketball so we don't get to travel there that a lot. With the Olympics there this year though and the Euroleague Final Four in London as well, it's going to be pretty exciting to go there and see it. I don't know how much time I will have in terms of site seeing, but just getting the feel for the Olympics and just being around the top athletes in the world, I will be embracing the experience."
You represented Russia at the 2010 World Championships, what can you take from that experience to the 2012 Olympics?
"Just how different those games are. When you're playing in the league professionally you always know what to expect from other teams, their certain style of play, and there are those things that you already know. But when you are playing a competition like this internationally, and even the tournament that we just had, teams come from all different places so it feels different. African teams play different, American teams play different, European teams play different, even South American teams play different. I think just getting a chance and knowing how different it can be and what to expect from teams is definitely a very helpful experience going into the Olympics."
From your 2010 experience, how much do to visit with the other players you played against when you were at Kansas? Looking at the U.S.A. roster, you played against Blake Griffin (OU), Kevin Durant (Texas) and Russell Westbrook (UCLA).
"With the U.S.A. basketball team it's very different. They don't hang around the opposing athletes, which isn't a bad thing. I totally understand their approach but they always stay in a separate hotel and practice in their own gym, so you don't really see much of them other than in the gym when you are playing against them. Some of those guys definitely talk and say `hi' and it's always fun to see those guys. Obviously now they are some of the premier players in the NBA so it's always nice when they recognize you and remember you."
You obviously follow the Jayhawks and were in New Orleans for the National Championship game this past April, what made you make the long trip and haw was the experience?
"It was great. It was one of those deals where my wife and I were following the (NCAA) tournament and we were just so excited for KU, how well they were doing and how unexpectedly it came around. At that time we had just flown back from the (United) States and we had a game at home that was right (during) KU's semi-final game. Our coach gave us two-and-a-half days off, so I came up to Tay (Kaun's wife and former KU soccer player Taylor Blue) and said, `Hey, you want to go see the game?'
It was crazy because literally we made that decision seven hours before the flight decision. I called to see if we could get tickets to the game and then we went and booked the ticket and got on the plane and flew. It was great and an unbelievable experience to be there and experience it as a fan rather than a player. To support the coaching staff, the players and the team, I am really glad that I did it. Obviously, it would have been better if we would have won, but still, it was just a really great experience."
What are your expectations for London? Are you hoping to give your National Championship ring some company with a Gold Medal?
"It's really hard to say, but definitely to win. This tournament is very different. The main thing is to get out of the group, that's the most important thing. After that it's going to kind of depend on who you get, but definitely it's to win. We have a really good team with a lot of experience."
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