The CSKA Moscow basketball team is five years short of its 100th anniversary. Few teams on the planet have more trophies than CSKA, which has been crowned as the EuroLeague champion seven times. The standards of success that CSKA has set are mighty high, and one man, forward Andrey Vorontsevich, is about to push one milestone a bit higher.
Currently in his 13th season with the club, Vorontsevich is the longest-tenured player on CSKA's roster. With his next appearance, which should happen on the road against FC Bayern Munich on Friday night, Vorontsevich will break the record for the most EuroLeague games played in a CSKA uniform.
"This is a big thing for me, but something that I have never even dreamed about," says Vorontsevich, who is still just 31 years old.
Last week, in CSKA's victory over AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan, he tied the club record of his former long-time teammate Victor Khryapa with 240 games played in the competition. Many of those games were at the highest levels, too, as CSKA has made the playoffs and the Final Four in 11 of 12 seasons since Vorontsevich arrived.
His story started back in Novosibirsk, the club in Siberia where Vorontsevich grew up following in the footsteps of his family members.
"I was like a child learning how to walk."
"I started with basketball when I was six or seven years old," Vorontsevich remembers. "My father, Konstantin, and my older brother, also Konstantin, they both played basketball. Both of them had number 10 on their jerseys. That is two times 10, so I took number 20."
But the moment that changed Vorontsevich's life happened far from Russia, at the 2006 FIBA Europe Under-20 Championships in Turkey.
"Coach Ettore Messina saw me in 2006 in Izmir and asked me to come here to CSKA," Vorontsevich recalls. "For me, for a young kid, it was not a dream, it was something impossible."
Vorontsevich had just turned 19 years old when he came to CSKA, and it's the only club he has played for since then.
"I had watched the guys who played for CSKA on TV, and after I signed the contract, I was suddenly practicing and playing with them. For me, it was a new life. I was like a child learning how to walk."
From learning how to walk, Vorontsevich has become a marathon runner. In the EuroLeague alone he has played in 240 games, and his next start will be his 100th in the competition. Only five active players have more Euroleague appearances than him, and only one – Sergio Llull of Real Madrid – has also done so with only one club. Vorontsevich has been part of 188 victories in the EuroLeague, the most in club history, and tied for the third-most in competition history.
Vorontsevich has lifted two EuroLeague trophies with CSKA – in 2008 and 2016 – and has won more than a dozen domestic titles. He can't even count all the seasons that he played together with Khryapa, a good friend, a former teammate and a club legend with whom he still shares the record for a few more days. But when he thinks of all the special teammates from his dozen years with the club, he goes back to his very beginnings.
"If I take the time to look back and remember my first season here, it is the veterans who helped me," he says. "Aleksey Savrasenko, Zakhar Pashutin, Trajan Langdon, Matjaz Smodis, Theo Papaloukas, J.R. Holden, Ramunas Siskauskas. These are the guys who really helped me to grow and gave me all the good tips and things, showed me how I needed to work, helped me understand basketball."
Vorontsevich says that CSKA has always paid a lot of attention to detail, and he learned that very quickly from the veterans who were there at the time of his arrival.
"In our arena, close to the president's office doors, there is a sign that says: 'Here, basketball is 24 hours, 7 days a week.' I started to understand that from the beginning and started learning how to be a professional, how to work hard every day," Vorontsevich explains. "With me, as with the entire CSKA team, it does not matter which competition we play, we go to win and try to take the gold."
Understanding where he is and who he plays for has allowed Vorontsevich to have such a successful career. Even after playing in 240 EuroLeague games, closing in on 1,500 points scored and 250 triples made, while grabbing more than 750 rebounds, he still wants to hear criticism of his father and his brother about the mistakes he made in a game he just played.
"When you are very young, you make a lot of mistakes," he says. "But then, there are less and less of them. If you are not scared to make a mistake, you will be a good player."
Breaking CSKA's record for EuroLeague appearances is just one of many marks that are within Vorontsevich's reach. For him, what's most important is the continuity of his connection with CSKA.
"If you are not scared to make a mistake, you will be a good player."
"I am a part of one of the best clubs in the world," he explains. "CSKA has a big history. On the walls in our arena, you can see jerseys of the veterans who played here and won so many titles. We just continued what they did, and I hope CSKA will become the best club ever."
Vorontsevich does not want to be satisfied with just spending all these years at CSKA, however. He aims to improve every day so that CSKA continues its remarkable reign of success, which during Vorontsevich's tenure has culminated with EuroLeague titles in 2008 and 2016.
"I want to keep growing, and I want the club to keep growing," he says. "If each of us starts from himself, thinking 'What do I need to do more?', trying to be better day by day, trying to work hard with the coaches, on my skills, my shots, my everything, that's how you improve yourself and get confidence. If you are better today than you were yesterday, you live very good."