ULM (EuroBasket 2013) - Young talents Sergey Karasev and Dmitry Kulagin are both gaining invaluable experience at their respective clubs and will surely help them play a key role in the Russian national team under new coach Fotis Katsikaris at EuroBasket 2013.
"We have some young players who need to take a step forward and are playing with good teams and getting good experience. They are playing good roles, which is very important," said Katsikaris, whose club team Gescrap Bizkaia Bilbao Basket is playing against German side ratiopharm ulm in the Eurocup Quarter-Finals.
The top two youngsters in the Russian system are the 19-year-old Karasev, who is playing with Eurocup team Triumph Lyubertsy, and 20-year-old Kulagin, who plays at EuroChallenge side Krasnie Krilya Samara.
"They will be with the team and they will have to demonstrate what they can do," said Katsikaris.
"Obviously Karasev has more experience also playing in Eurocup this year and the VTB League. He’s playing better and better this year. And Kulagin is a very talented player as well."
Karasev, who helped Russia to the bronze medal at the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship, actually played for Russia's senior team at the 2012 Olympics at age 18. Kulagin, meanwhile, made the All-Tournament Team at the 2011 U19 Worlds in Latvia.
The 45-year-old Greek coach Katsikaris took over as Russian boss after David Blatt decided to step aside after his successful reign, which ended with a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics and also included the 2007 European crown.
"David did a great job with the team all those years he was with them. He inspired them to compete and that’s the number one thing," said Katsikaris.
"Now we have to continue that. The expectations are very high. I believe that we will compete in Slovenia. We will be strong."
The Bilbao coach said he will mainly need to find the right mix of players as some of the veterans may pull out of the Slovenia tournament.
Superstar Andrei Kirilenko already has pulled out of EuroBasket 2013, and it seems likely that Victor Khryapa will do the same since he continually battles with injuries.
"Everything is about the chemistry. Everything is about the condition. Right now I cannot say more," Katsikaris said about which players he has received commitments from for this summer.
"I think we will keep the main base of the team. And with some young players we are looking to make the right chemistry. I think we will be competitive."
Russia have a tough draw in Group D in Koper along with Italy, Greece, Sweden, Finland and Turkey.
"It's the toughest group. Every game will be very important," said the coach.
"In general, besides the tough group, this will be the most competitive EuroBasket in the last years. We are seeing countries like Montenegro that have improved a lot. In general it's going to be very, very tough."
The goal for Russia will be to fight for the top ranks, especially qualifying for the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
"From there anything can happen. In knockout games, anything can happen. One rebound, one shot. You need some luck. But the most important thing is to be focused and go game by game."
One game in particular will be extra emotional for Katsikaris, who will coach against his native Greece on the second day.
"Wow, that’s going to be very tough, to tell the truth. Let me not think about that at this time. I have time until September."