Viacheslav Zaitcev:
I Don't Notice My Opponent When I Dunk

Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd underwent a major roster overhaul and is now looking like a legitimate playoff threat. One of the league's most exciting players, Viacheslav Zaitcev, signed with the club during the offseason and has seen his minutes and production go up significantly in Volgograd this season.

He spoke with VTB-League.com about his new role, what it feels like to dunk, who he'd invite to a league dunk contest and Krasny Oktyabr's goofiest foreign player.

- Krasny Oktyabr has seen a lot of change during the course of the season and signed several new players. What was it like playing without any foreigners for a few games?
- It wasn't easy, but we played hard and could have won a few games. We came really close against Astana. But I think we could have performed better and won a few games. At the least, we had opportunities.

- After bringing in reinforcements, Oktyabr won two in a row in January to close the gap on 8th-place Nizhny Novgorod. Do you think you can catch them for the final playoff spot?
- Of course we can. We'll try to win every game. I don't think we are any worse than the teams in the playoff zone. Plus, we have a very competitive squad now with talented players at every position.

- Despite trailing Enisey by 19 in a recent game, Krasny Oktyabr managed to complete a terrific comeback. What made it possible?
- Early on, we weren't on the same page. Maybe it was the long flight or something else. But our coach found the right words and everything changed. He told us not to make stupid mistakes or argue with the refs. We played like we know how. That motivated us. We started digging in on defense and making shots on offense to gradually get back in the game.

- Was it nice to return to Krasnoyarsk after so many seasons with Enisey?
- Of course! I got to catch up with old friends. The fans gave me a warm welcome and clapped for me before the game.

- You had a spectacular dunk in the game. It even took 1st place in the Top 5 Plays of the Week. Would you consider it the best dunk of your career?
- Yes, that's probably right. It was my most spectacular dunk. Two big men tried to stop me, but I broke through.

- Do you copy anyone's style or do you try to improvise?
- I wouldn't call it improvisation. If I'm able to get a good jump, then it turns out looking good. When I dunk, I don't notice my opponent, which is why I often dunk in traffic. Dunks like that are worth the most.

- Who would invite to a hypothetical VTB United League dunk contest?
- Latavious Williams can really jump for UNICS. My teammate Jefferson is a good dunker. He arrived recently, but I think people will have a chance to see what he can do. Valery Likhodei can put on a show on occasion. I also think that Alexey Shved is a good jumper. You could put together a pretty good lineup.

- Who's your favorite dunker of all time?
- I don't have one favorite. Maybe Blake Griffin... DeAndre Jordan... The way they dunk in traffic - it's ridiculous. It's fun to watch the Clippers play basketball. Right now, there are a lot of guys in the NBA that can dunk. I think that anyone can dunk on anyone in the right situation.

- Which role do you prefer: being a leader at Krasny Oktyabr or helping as a role player with Enisey?
- Of course, the one I have now as a leader at Krasny Oktyabr. When the coach trusts you, you can feel it. You don't worry about losing the ball. When you're given freedom, you start playing differently. Otherwise, you always worry you'll get taken out of the game as soon as you make a mistake. It's a totally different feeling on the court.

- When did you understand that basketball would become your career?
- I started playing basketball in first grade. Before that, I played soccer for a little while and also did music. I liked basketball right away. You could say that's where my career started. We had a lot of tournaments. We traveled to Latvia, Estonia, Finland - nothing was that far from Finland. I was pretty decent and when I was 14 I joined Adamant, then played a season with Spartak's youth team. That's when someone noticed me and I was invited to Khimki.

- Krasny Oktyabr has had many big stars in recent years. Who made the biggest impression? Who had the most fun in the locker room?
- I remember JaJuan Johnson best. He was very effective. Tony Mitchell was the goofiest player in the locker room.

- This is your 5th season in the league. What makes the league stand out?
- I have a new important role on the team. As for the league, everyone has great rosters this season. It's going to be a tough battle for the playoffs. There were also some big moves, including Shved's decision to join Khimki. When players come to the league from the NBA, it's always good for the competition.