MOSCOW (2010 FIBA World Championship for Women) – Russia sprung the biggest upset of the 2006 FIBA World Championship for Women in Brazil when they beat the tournament favorites Team USA in the Semi-Finals.
Veteran guard Ilona Korstin says the Russians will be looking to make headlines again this year when the event is staged in the Czech Republic.
The European giants will compete in Group D against Japan, Argentina and the Czechs and it promises to be an emotional experience for many of them following the November death of Shabtai Von Kalmanovic, the successful Spartak Moscow Region supremo who had been put in charge of the national team for the EuroBasket Women in Latvia.
“I don't know what will happen in the national team without Shabtai, or who will take his place,” Korstin said to FIBA.com.
“But we are ready to fight in the Czech Republic for the medals.”
Korstin was a long-time player at CSKA Moscow but decided to leave last summer along with the other big-name players with the club lacking investment and facing an uncertain future.
She accepted an offer from Von Kalmanovic to play at Spartak – the three-time defending champions of the EuroLeague Women.
A hugely successful figure in both men’s and women’s basketball, Von Kalmanovic was a big hit with Spartak’s top team but he also was busy laying the foundations for future success at the club, and for Russia, after creating a successful youth program at the Vidnoje outfit.
Von Kalmanovic was shot and killed in Moscow on November 2.
Spartak’s games were postponed. Current and former players attended his funeral.
“It was a very hard time for all of us,” Korstin said.
"We miss Shabtai a lot. He was everything in this club and he did a hard and huge job to make the Spartak team the champion team, so of course we want to continue this champion tradition and to dedicate this season to his memory.”
Von Kalmanovic’s wife, Anna Arkhipova Von Kalmanovic, was a teammate of Korstin’s on the gold-medal winning team at EuroBasket 2003 in Greece.
She has become executive director of Spartak following her late husband’s death.
“It's very hard for her to face everything with what's happened and she received a heavy burden,” Korstin said.
“But I think she is the right and best person to continue to make this club work because she knows everything about basketball like a player, coach and manager. She is doing very well.”
Korstin is one of the best known players in Europe and international basketball and not just because of her success on the court.
Four years ago, she was officially made the face of FIBA Europe’s Year of Women’s Basketball campaign.
At Spartak, Korstin plays alongside other famous players like USA internationals Diana Taurasi, Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird – her rivals in past international competitions.
Korstin says they are all good friends.
“We have a very friendly and professional chemistry inside of the group,” Korstin said.
“Yes, we are good friends. We spend a lot of time together …”
There is much to do for Korstin at Spartak before she puts on the Russia jersey.
Her team lost in the Russia Cup Final over the weekend to UMMC Ekaterinburg.
The aim is to win the EuroLeague and follow that up with a Superleague Women triumph.
“We are analyzing ours mistakes and we are trying to correct them and to become better and stronger as a team,” Korstin said.
“I know that we did not show our best basketball yet, but I'm sure that it will come for the important games.”
photo Getty Images
photo Getty images
photo Getty Images