Sergei Panov:
We don't sign established leaders. We let the players become ones here

Nizhniy Novgorod’s cinderella story did not end with the team’s participation in the VTB United League’s finals in 2013/14. The squad managed to have one of the league’s longest regular season winning streaks (10 games), advanced to the semifinals and lost to the future champions CSKA Moscow as well as made some noise in the Euroleague.

Nizhniy’s chairman of the board Sergey Panov told VTB-league.com about replacing the team’s leaders, about attracting more fans and promised that the club would soon have some exciting new players that could be the national team candidates.

How do you rate Nizniy’s most recent season on a one to ten scale?

I would rank us at eight. We finished fourth in the VTB League, which, I guess, is what we deserved and had a chance to make it to the Euroleague if Loko had beaten Khimki in the semifinals. Currently things are running quite smoothly and we will try to improve our results in the upcoming season.

The team held its first training camp in Riga during EuroBasket 2015, where Latvia with coach Bagatskis played its group stage games.

Yes, this was not a coincidence. Although we were not able to attend any of the games due to the fact all the tickets had been sold out, Ainars Bagatskis managed to attend our practices to keep things under control.

Nizhniy Novgorod had three representatives on Russian national team. Who else is capable of making it there?

Ivan Viktorov and Ilya Popov are currently on the U20 team and have the potential to make it to the national squad. We also hope that our youth team will soon start producing some talent and we’ll have more representatives wearing the national team’s outfit.

Taylor Rochestie, Tarance Kinsey, Trey Tompkins and Artsiom Parakhouski,  who were the core of the team last year, left. How can they be replaced?

There are no irreplaceable players and we always have two candidates to take the spot of someone, who leaves. People do not come to our team as established leaders. They earn the right to become ones here. We’ll have a new core with new leaders very soon.

Rasid Mahalbasic joins the team following the departure of Parakhouski. Was this move financially necessary or did you just sign a young and talented centre?

It’s not about the money and Mahalbasic is not here to replace Parahouski. He’s just a good centre who is going to help us.

Do you expect Eric Maynor, who will take up Rochestie's spot, to have an immediate impact?

Maynor is a very experienced player who, following an injury, has not been able to demonstrate consistent level of play over the course of last couple of seasons. He, however, works hard during the practices and wants to win with us. We expect him to be a valuable asset.

Ainars Bagatskis almost immediately became a favourite among the team’s fans. Did his results exceed the expectations you'd had?

We expected him to bring in some spectacular basketball and great results. We don’t hire anyone out of the blue, we do our homework and research the candidate.

Nizhniy was ninth in attendance last season. How are you planning to get more fans to attend home games?

We want to make some transformations to the arena as we understand that watching a basketball game from behind the baseline is not the best experience. We want to cover those seats to give the arena a better look and we want to install more comfortable bleachers closer to the field of play. We are also working on improving the service and increasing the number of snack spots and are looking into corporate sales as many local companies would like to reward their staff with an opportunity to see good quality basketball. In addition to that we promote our events among young athletes and secondary schools and hope that the young generation can start paying more attention to the game we love.

Your team’s Euroleague venture, successful seasons in the VTB United League as well as organising Russia’s 3x3 finals have got to have made an impact on your fan base. What is the future of the youth teams your club has?

We’ve been able to establish a youth team basically from scratch. The Olympic Reserve College is the place where we can scout some youngsters from the surrounding towns. The local gyms that are currently under construction are planned to be basketball friendly. Youth team’s Sergei Marking is currently practicing with the main squad and this is the reflection of the quality of the work we do. Basketball is becoming more and more popular in the region.

Nizhniy Novgorod manages to present some sort of surprise almost every season. Do you think that your team can shift from being an occasional surprise-team to a category of heavy favourites?

We keep working and keep improving from season to season. It’s not up to us to place ourselves into any kinds of categories, however, I know that a lot of teams in Europe would like to be like Nizhniy.