MARIUPOL (EuroBasket/FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Kyryl Natyazhko wore a tired look on his face after playing for Azovmash on Wednesday night in the club's final game of the 2012-13 Eurocup.
The Ukrainian club was in the midst of a long road trip, one that had seen them play at Kryvbasbasket on the domestic front, then at BC Khimky Moscow Region in the VTB United League and finally, on Wednesday night, at Valencia Basket in the Eurocup.
With no chance of progressing, Azovmash crashed to a 93-68 defeat.
Natyazhko, who wrapped up his Arizona Wildcats career earlier this year and then helped Ukraine qualify for EuroBasket 2013, is a big, strong 2.08m center.
Having just turned 22 at the end of November, he knows he will have to put in a lot of hard work to have a successful career.
He’s been very busy, because not only as the big man been studying game tapes but also completing his university degree.
Natyazhko took time to answers some questions from FIBA.com.
FIBA.com: Kyryl, can you tell us what turning professional has been like for you?
Natyazhko: It's been up and down for me. I started pretty good but we play so many games, basically an NBA schedule with three games a week. We just got here (Valencia) after two games and haven't been home for five days, so it's tough playing a game every other night, tough to prepare for a game every other night. But we'll just have to try and do better the second half of the season.
FIBA.com: Did playing for Ukraine give you solid preparation for your rookie season?
Natyazhko: It helped me tremendously, being coached by Mike Fratello. He's a really great coach, and his staff. They helped me understand the pro level better, which is a different level to college. He really helped me a lot and I appreciate it.
FIBA.com: Tell us about the Qualification Round for the EuroBasket 2013, when Ukraine won six of eight games.
Natyazhko: Croatia (who beat Ukraine twice) is a really good team and even Austria have some really good players, including some in the Euroleague. Every team is sneaky. They can beat you in the two games. You have to be ready for every game, and you have to play them every third day so it's tough, but interesting.
FIBA.com: Is Fratello a demanding coach?
Natyazhko: I would say he has so much experience that his presence makes guys show respect. Everyone listens twice to what he says and his staff is really amazing. His staff is really amazing because he has like six coaches from the pro level. You're talking about guys who coached Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O'Neal, guys like that.
FIBA.com: Having been away for several years in America, have you noticed big changes in Ukrainian basketball now that you are back?
Natyazhko: Yes. The 2015 EuroBasket is going to be in Ukraine, so that's taking things to a whole new level. People are starting to understand the game a little more.
FIBA.com: Don’t you have a famous cousin?
Natyazhko: My cousin, Kyrylo Fesenko, he was an NBA player with the Utah Jazz. Basketball has been in family, and I've always been around it in my life.
FIBA.com: Tell us about Arizona.
Natyazhko: Being a player for the University of Arizona is like being an NBA player. You got all the best in sport, like 13,000 fans at every game. The campus life is amazing. Great players went there like Steve Kerr, Sean Elliott, Mike Bibby, Andre Iguodala - they come back in the summer and play with you. Going there definitely made me a better player. At first, it was tough because I was the only foreigner on the team so at first I was kind of lost and I also played behind Derrick Williams, who was the number two pick in the (2011) NBA Draft (Minnesota). You can't get a lot of minutes when you play behind a guy like that. Overall, it was a life experience. I've lived on my own since I was 17. Just two days ago, I graduated from college.
FIBA.com: Have you had time yet to celebrate getting a university degree in General Studies?
Natyazhko: Not yet. Like I said, I've been away from home but we're going back to Ukraine now so I'll be able to celebrate with my girlfriend and my family.
FIBA.com: How good can Ukraine be next summer?
Natyazhko: Yes, well, we have Viacheslav Kravtsov who plays my position and he's now with the Detroit Pistons and we have Serhiy Lishchuk (Valencia) who has played for us and hopefully he will. We have Sergii Gladyr in Spain (Fuenlabrada). I think we have quite a good team and we can make some noise in the EuroBasket as long as we can stay together and try to take one game at a time.