Victor Rudd:
I Can Do A Lot More Than I've Shown So Far

Nizhny Novgorod forward Victor Rudd spoke with VTB-League.com and Sport-Express.

Nizhny turned heads in March, picking up wins over Lokomotiv-Kuban and UNICS, though the club also dropped one to Krasny Oktyabr. The club has become known for its unpredictability, both in the positive and negative sense. That said, there's a player on the roster who puts together incredible performances with amazing regularity.

Of course, we're talking about Victor Rudd. In his first season outside the USA, he's been given a huge amount of responsibility. The American big man plays more then 30 minutes per game, serves as Nizhny's #1 option on offense and often guards the opponent's most dangerous shooter.

- My professional career started pretty recently, so this is my first individual prize, - admits Rudd. - Of course, I dream of winning even bigger honors, but it's cool that my contributions to the team's success have been noticed. But I can still do a lot more than I've shown so far. I hope I can stick around the United League and uncover my full potential.

- Nizhny won two big games in March over Lokomotiv-Kuban and UNICS. Can your team play consistently at that level?
- We are getting better over the course of the season. In my opinion, we've been playing really well for about two months. But we struggle a little with consistency. For example, in Volgograd we gave away a game that we should have won. But wins over big team always give you confidence, especially since we might meet UNICS in the playoffs.

- Are you already starting to prepare for possible opponents?
- No, that's what the coaches told us before the game. We're 7th and they're 2nd, so if the playoffs started today, we'd meet them. I really don't look at the standings or follow how other teams play. All that matters to me is the next game.

- No one in Russia is surprised anymore by Nizhny's competitive fire and ability to spring upsets. Have you been able to get a sense for Nizhny's intangibles that allow it to compete with teams that might have more depth and talent?
- To be honest, I don't know much about VTB United League history or European basketball. So I don't know who Nizhny's beat in the past. But I understood immediately that our team never gives up. It wasn't a fluke that we beat all the top Russian teams: not just Loko and UNICS, but also Khimki and CSKA. I'm also wired to give 100% on every play, and I think that's why I fit in pretty quickly with the team.

- Nizhny lost two key guards during the fall: Eric Maynor and Maxim Grigoryev suffered season-ending injuries. Given that, the team's recent success is even more incredible.
- After we lost them, the team went through a tough stretch. We lost more than we won. But after several losses, we rallied around each other. There wasn't any help coming. Those guys couldn't rush their recovery. We had to figure it ourselves. So far, it seems to be working, though I wonder sometimes what we could accomplish with a healthy roster. I think we'd be capable of battling for 2nd place in the VTB United League regular season.

- Did you connect right away with the coaching staff? After all, the approach and methods are very different in the USA.
- I wouldn't say I had to make many adjustments. Yes, Ainars Bagatskis doesn't speak fluent English, but I understand everything that's basketball-related. Plus, his assistant Arturs Stalbergs played in the USA and speaks English really well. We talk a lot. He helps me get all the details. We built a good relationship during the preseason, while Bagatskis was coaching the Latvian national team at EuroBasket.

As for basketball, I get along well with Bagatskis. I can sense his trust, given that I play almost the entire game and have a lot of responsibilities on offense and defense. During timeouts, he gives most of his instructions in Russia, but I understand what he wants, since I can see what he's drawing on the clipboard. If I miss something, I can always ask Rasid, Dima or Semyon.

- Some people think that the regular season in the USA is nothing more than a warmup before the "real" basketball starts. Can you sense a contrast with Europe when it comes to intensity?
- No one takes it easy at the college level. Every team gives 100% on the court. It's a different situation in the D-League, though. The guys in that league are so close to making the NBA and the amount of talent is incredible. In Europe, the players may not be as gifted, but they are very well-coached and work really hard. I'm really happy that I crossed the ocean. The opposition here forces me to get better. If I look back at the start of the season, I can tell I've become a different player.

- Do you mean that you've adjusted to European basketball or that you have a new perspective on the game?
- Probably both. At first, it was really hard for me to understand the rules. For instance, I constantly traveled, since it's called differently in the USA and certain moves are buried deep in my muscle memory. But that wasn't the only thing. Mistakes are a lot more costly in Europe. Players here are very efficient and if you lose the ball, you'll probably get punished for it at the other end. That forces you to rethink your approach and think more. I've definitely improved my understanding of the game.

There's one other thing. I think of myself as a solid individual defender and love to guard people close. But you can't play defense that tight on the perimeter in Europe. I'll give an example: When we played against CSKA, Nando De Colo caught me with the same move a couple of times. I put out my hand in order to make it harder for him to dribble and he grabbed on to me, then threw his hands up. And the refs called me for the foul! I'm used to really physical on-the-ball defense, but you get punished for that in Europe. I'm still getting used to it.

- But you can also take advantage of that on offense.
- Of course! I'm going to spend time on that during the summer, learning how to provoke contact. The players in Europe are very sneaky. I've seen it for myself and need to keep up. I've started watching Euroleague games recently and there's a lot I can learn from them.

- As far as I can tell, you love watching basketball. For example, when the players on your team were asked to give recommendations on shows to watch over the New Year, you suggested watching the 2009 playoff series between the Nuggets and the Lakers.
- I've also started watching shows recently, so I might give a different answer now (smiles). But basketball is still in 1st place by a long shot. I start the season with American college basketball. It's always intense and the players give everything they have. Once they're done, I switch to the NBA playoffs. Now I've added the Euroleague to my menu. I watch and take a lot of notes. I also love seeing the fans at the big European arenas, especially in Turkey. Nothing can compare to playing in that type of atmosphere. When we played Maccabi in the Eurocup, the Tel Aviv arena was sold out and electric. That's the first time I ever saw support like that. It was unforgettable.

- The NBA is your dream. Do you have a favorite team?
- Not anymore. I root for my friends and acquaintances that I played against in school and college.

- Do you think Golden State can break the record set by Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls and win 73 games in the regular season (the Warriors need to win four of their last five games)?
- They can do it. But their opponents down the stretch are tough. For example, San Antonio. Plus, I'm confident the opposition will try to prevent them from breaking the record. We already saw that at the All-Star Game. When Paul George started to challenge Wilt Chamberlain's scoring record, the other team started playing him a lot tougher on defense.

- There are a lot of crazy stereotypes about Russia in the USA. Was it hard to make the move?
- In reality, I made the decision to join Nizhny really quickly and didn't have time to think. I got some advice later on. I talked with guys that had played in Europe and asked about difficulties they faced. When I arrived, I realized that everything was a lot better than people had told me. Plus, Eric was with me in the beginning and now Rasid helps me with everything. I definitely would have struggled without him. He speaks fluent English and can get by in Russian. If I go somewhere, it's always with him. I found myself a nanny (laughs). Overall, life in Russia works for me. I'm a pretty independent person anyway. I feel really comfortable being alone. I can do what I want and no one bothers me.

- But you probably miss your son?
- You've got that right! I flew home for a few days in December because of him. My son is on the only reason I miss home.

- Why didn't you bring him with you?
- I thought about it. But we were always on the road at the start of the season. I wasn't sure about bringing him to Russia given that I wouldn't be able to spend much time with him. Now we're in Nizhny a lot more, but it's too late for a move. Most of the season is behind us. I can wait. Plus, the playoffs are almost here and I need to concentrate on basketball.