Valeriy Tikhonenko:
Astana Believes In The Development Of Local Players

Although Astana managed to take over the opposition and clinch a playoff berth only during the last rounds of the regular season in 2014-15, they were able to achieve the feat for the third straight time. New season awaits ahead together with new ambitious challenges.
Club’s general manager Valeriy Tikhonenko told us about the team’s offseason, talked about the newcomers and noted, that he hopes that local player will show great improvement and more Kazakh fans will show up to the games to support their team.

At the end of the most recent regular season Astana barely managed to clinch playoffs. Would it be true to state that that’s how the club salvaged a disappointing season?

I would not like to call it a salvation. We did have a difficult and a hard-fought season with its ups and downs. We had to deal with a head-coaching change followed by an attempt to make it to the playoffs and as our goal was to make it to the post season - we accomplished it, however, not without a drama. The win over Zenit in Saint Petersburg was a gift to our fans, who never failed to believe that their favourite team would end up in the elimination round.

Ramunas Butautas will stay at the helm of the team in the upcoming season. Name some of his strengths.

Butautas is a natural leader, who values players’ discipline and concentration, who has his ways of approaching star players as well as developing young local athletes. He’s an experienced coach, who made a mark with VEF Riga and the Lithuanian national team.

Astana re-signed Jerry Johnson and Pat Calathes to new contracts in the offseason. Do you expect them to lead the team once again?

There is no doubt that Jerry and Pat are our leaders, but we will not be dependant only on them in the success of our team. We will continue to promote team play, since great team chemistry and proper understanding of each other’s role are the keys to success.

What do you expect from Alexey Zhukanenko, who spent most of his career playing for Russian powerhouses?

Alexey was born in Almaty, Kazakhstan and is ethnically a Kazakh. He started playing basketball here and a lot of people still remember where he’s from. It’s nice to have Alexey back and the entire Kazakh basketball community is happy he’ll put Astana’s outfit on. I hope he can quickly adjust to the new team and can demonstrate high-level basketball.

Alexander Zhigulin, who previously played for Barcelona youth team, is also back in Kazakhstan. Tell us more about the player. Can he make an impact right away?

Sasha is a very talented player, who has a great feel for the game. He is very energetic, mobile, devoted and he is willing to hustle. I am happy to have Zhigulin back and I am sure he can help us during the upcoming season. He’s made a great impression during the pre-season and has been able to compete with the team’s leaders.

Two new American players, Kenny Hayes and Adam Kemp, are joining the team. Tell us about them.

Hayes is a fast and athletic player, who is confident on both ends of the court. He runs the floor well and is ready to put constant pressure on his opponent defensively. Kenny is a very coachable player who perfectly executes the game plan. He is also a great help-side defender, which is important for our schemes.
Kemp is a young player, who is only starting his overseas career. He’s a great athlete, who poses a serious threat in the paint. I think he’ll need some time to adjust and hope that he’ll be able to meet the high expectations we have.

You’ve mentioned before that Astana tries to improve from season to season. What did you do during the summer to accomplish that?

I think that keeping the core of the team and keeping the head coach was vital and will help us meet our expectations.

Such young Kazakh players as Anton Ponomarev, Anatoliy Kolesnikov and Pavel Ilin have been able to improve mainly due to their experience in the VTB United League. Who else is coming up to their level?

We are hoping that young point guard Rustam Murzagaliyev will have a confident season and will turn into a reliable back up for Jerry Johnson. I expect Maxim Marchuk, who is extremely talented, but still young and needs to work a lot and hard, to improve. Two Kazakh forwards Vitaliy Lapchenko and Alimbek Orazov have a lot of potential and we also expect another newcomer - young but experienced Sasha Zhigulin - to impress the opposition.

Unlike ice-hockey, the Kazakh fans are not too actively supporting the basketball teams. How are you planning to break this pattern in the upcoming season?

We keep working in this direction and do all we can to attract more fans to our games. There’s a certain amount of interest and we now have our own fan-team, who comes up with various ideas, contests and events.

We recently published the 2015/16 regular season schedule. Which one of the road games is the most anticipated for you?

I am always especially happy to be back at USK CSKA, where I used to play and coach. Besides that every other road game has something special about it as every League city has some special memories that have piled up during Astana’s four previous seasons in the VTB United League.