|A famous writer once said you can't go home again, but Andrei Kirilenko, the bwin MVP for October in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, is proving otherwise. In two games back in a CSKA uniform for the first time in a decade, Kirilenko is helping fans in Moscow forget already about the club's rare, unsuccessful Euroleague campaign last season. CSKA is 2-0 and sharing first place in regular season Group B with defending champion Panathinaikos. Kirilenko, meanwhile, leads all Euroleague players in average performance index rating (30), rebounds (12.5 rpg.) and blocks (2.5 bpg.), while ranking fifth in assists (5.5 apg). In other words, it has been a stellar start for CSKA and Kirilenko, who knows exactly what the team has to insist upon to make the most of its early momentum. ""We have a goal: we have to win every single game; simple as that," Kirilenko told Euroleague.net. "We have a big pressure on us and on our coach. We can't relax, even for a second. Everybody is looking and every loss by CSKA is like a disaster. So there's huge pressure to win every game. I like feeling that pressure. This is a good way of playing, when you have pressure have to win every game, especially when you have all the tools to win. We have great group. All we have to do is do our job, have fun and keep winning."
Andrei, congratulations on October bwin MVP award. How does it feel to start the Euroleague season with two victories and an award like this?
"It was very important for us to start the Euroleague season with two wins, playing better and better, and playing like a team. It's also nice to get the bwin MVP award for the month, but I think that basketball is a team sport first. You can play well individually and lose because it's all about the team in this sport and how well the team plays, not whether you alone play well. So, for me, this award is about the team, too."
In general, how much are you enjoying this return to CSKA and the Euroleague?
"Oh, I am definitely having fun. We have a great group of guys, great chemistry in the locker room, and we are just trying to help each other as much as possible. That's why we are succeeding so far."
How did it feel out there on the floor for you on opening night against Zalgiris?
"It was a great game. The whole game we played well. We were a really great team, helping each other well. Of course, having great stats helped our team win the game, and to get this first win in front of 15,000 people means a lot."
How much do you and your teammates have in mind what happened to CSKA last year in the Euroleague regular season?
"I was following CSKA last year and was a little sad that, though they had a great team, something fell apart and the team couldn't really show the potential they had. Right now, I will try to help as much as possible, being here and playing with the guys on the team, to help them become a better team, not individually, but as a team."
That victory against Zalgiris seemed to set a tone for CSKA. What was the tone you guys tried to set?
"We're trying to be a threat in every game. Having 15 guys on the team who can play at a high level gives us very good depth. We are trying to build a team where every player is dangerous at every position and can change the game at any time."
In Week 2, at home last week against Bamberg, CSKA got a 20-point win. What did you like about that performance?
"I think that when you play against a team like Bamberg, you can't let them feel like it's going to be an easy game. You have to come on the court and set the tone from the beginning. That's what we did in the first two quarters to get a good lead. Later, we kind of relaxed a little and let them play how they wanted and come back some. It was a good thing then that we had the 20-point lead. So it's all about playing our best from the very first minute."
Against Zalgiris and Bamberg, CSKA averaged 23.5 assists, very high for 40-minute games. How important is sharing the ball to you?
"It's very important, especially with our roster. We have good, talented and experienced guys, a good mix of young guys and veterans. It doesn't matter what competition we are playing in, we have to share the ball, and we have to do it in every game. We have all the tools to do it, too, so we just have to work on our consistency."
Does European basketball require players to be more creative passing-wise because of the defenses being able to help more?
"European basketball is very team-oriented. It doesn't matter who well you can beat your guy individually, one on one. If you do, you're going to figure out that on the next attack, there's a double-team or someone helping him. So it becomes very important for the team to pass the ball well, shoot well and play efficiently as a team. The teams that have that great chemistry usually win in the Euroleague."
You kept your feel for the European game by playing on your national team. How much do you think that helped you in your return?
"Playing every summer the European-style game and FIBA basketball, it definitely helps. You try to get used to the different rules, because the NBA and the Euroleague have different rules, and the different refereeing. I'm not saying it's bad, but just the different rules and how the referee looks at them in the moment can be really surprising. In a long game, I have had a couple confusing moments, but it's getting better. Some of the style of the game is way, way different. But it takes time and definitely playing in the summer time with the national team helps me."
CSKA seems like a team on a mission and you are playing like a man on a mission. What is that mission?
"We are definitely on a mission. Our goal is to win a Euroleague title. It's very easy to look on the paper and say, yeah, you've got a team. But the players have to play, not the names on the paper. We have to play well on defense and offense, play a well-balanced game, in order to win every match this season. It's not going to be easy, it's not going to be just a walk through. Every team has a good roster right now and everyone can win."
You returned as a leader on this team. After such a good start, where do you want to take CSKA from here?
"We have a goal: we have to win every single game; simple as that. We have a big pressure on us and on our coach. We can't relax, even for a second. Everybody is looking and every loss by CSKA is like a disaster. So there's huge pressure to win every game. I like feeling that pressure. This is a good way of playing, when you have pressure have to win every game, especially when you have all the tools to win. We have great group. All we have to do is do our job, have fun and keep winning."