As our Dan Devine noted at Fourth-Place Medal on Sunday, Russian forward Andrei Kirilenko had a pretty great first game in the Olympics in London. Facing hosts Great Britain, the man known to NBA fans as AK47 (who actually wears No. 15 for Russia) dominated the contest with 35 points on 14-of-17 shooting on the way to a 95-75 win.
It was a nice sight for fans who missed Kirilenko last season, when he returned to his pre-NBA club CSKA Moscow in the midst of the lockout. That's especially true for devotees of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who reached terms with Kirilenko to a two-year deal last week. While he's always been a little more of a star for his home country than in the NBA, Kirilenko has the sort of versatile skills that can help an improving young team become a more serious postseason participant. At 31 years old, he can be a key veteran presence.
Yet, despite his advanced age, Kirilenko still thinks of himself as an energetic player. In fact, he told the assembled press as much after Sunday's game. From the Twitter account of Associated Press reporter Jon Krawczynski, who covers the Wolves during the NBA season:
Krawczynski's facts aren't exactly right; Kirilenko only took a year off from the NBA, not professional basketball. He helped CSKA Moscow to its 10th straight Russian title and earned EuroLeague MVP honors as he led the team to its first finals appearance since 2009. That's a full year, especially considering the high level of play in Europe.
Nevertheless, that does not change the fact that Kirilenko compared himself to a young deer. It's a surprising comment, and not just because AK looks more like a condor. Among his new Wolves teammates, Ricky Rubio stands out as the most cervine. I'm even willing to bet that Rubio has a stuffed rabbit he calls Thumper.
With Kirilenko playing this well, it's worth your time to catch the Russians' next game vs. China, though Tuesday's early start 4 a.m. ET tip-off time might force you to record it. Perhaps he will somehow be more active and run like a cheetah.