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BYU’s former Russian basketball star sees big things ahead for Cougars’ top prospect

Former Cougar Travis Hansen poses in his Dynamo Moscow jersey at his basketball camp for kids in Lehi.
Former Cougar Travis Hansen poses in his Dynamo Moscow jersey at his basketball camp for kids in Lehi. | Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press

Mapleton and Madrid are separated by 5,000 miles on a map and by eight hours on the clock. Communicating back and forth isn’t cheap or convenient, but for two families, and the future of a teenage prospect, they are priceless — even entertaining — as former BYU star Travis Hansen recalled on the “Y’s Guys” podcast.

“How did the workout go Saturday?” Hansen asked potential BYU star Egor Demin, who recently committed to BYU.

“Good! I worked out with Danny Green today (former San Antonio Spurs guard),” Egor said.

“Are you a better shooter than Danny?” said Hansen, from his home in Utah.

“Oh yeah! I’m a better shooter than Danny,” the projected 2025 NBA lottery pick fired back.

“But Danny is old, bro. Of course, you have to be a better shooter,” said Hansen.

“Yeah, that’s true. He’s old,” Egor replied.

“What about you and me? Who’s better?” Hansen prodded.

With that question, a third voice, a much deeper and more experienced voice, entered the conversation.

“I’ll answer that,” said Vladimir Demin, Egor’s father.

“Travis was tougher, more grit, was nastier (pause), but Egor more talented!”

In a group laugh, Hansen conceded the debate. Vladimir was right.

“(Egor) has size, skill, IQ and the ability to disrupt and completely destroy a defense no matter what schemes and methods and calls you throw at him,” Hansen said. “He’s the real deal.”

As for developing some Hansen-like grit and toughness, the former Cougar is ready to help.

“It’s mostly mental, so coach (Kevin) Young and BYU will work with him as he continues to develop.”

Prized recruit

The 6-foot-9 Demin remains unsigned while wading through an ocean of NCAA paperwork, but the 18-year-old has already said goodbye to his Real Madrid under-18 junior team. He is expected in Provo by summer’s end.

“He’s been really well developed,” Hansen said. “Real Madrid does not mess around. You had better be a top talent if they are going to bring you into their program.”

“He’s been really well developed. Real Madrid does not mess around. You had better be a top talent if they are going to bring you into their program.”

Former BYU star Travis Hansen on Egor Demin

Hansen and Demin are separated by 28 years, but their basketball journeys are much closer. After playing at BYU, Hansen spent one year with the Atlanta Hawks before going to Europe. He suited up for Dynamo Moscow in 2006, the year Demin was born.

Hansen and his wife, LaRee, were so endearing to the people, they were awarded Russian citizenship and Hansen was invited to play for the Russian Federation at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which, as a proud American, he respectfully declined.

In 2009, Hansen moved from Moscow and signed with Real Madrid in Spain. He returned to play for Russia Khimki in 2010, where he retired.

Egor’s journey is similar, but in reverse. The Demins moved Egor from their home in Moscow to Madrid to develop his basketball skills with Real Madrid. After plenty of baskets and three academic years with Real Madrid, they will send their son to BYU for at least one year before pursuing the NBA.

“They are really smart. They know that it’s going to be a critical step,” Hansen said of Vladimir and Natalia’s parenting efforts. “It looks like the size, skill and ability is there. I would just say strength. How long does it take to get that strength in place so he can last an 82-game season in the NBA.

“That would be the only holdback. My expectations for Egor is that he reaches his dream and ends up being a top draft pick and has a long career in the NBA. The longer he stays at BYU and with his development, I think the better for his career.”

Different styles

During Hansen’s nine years playing overseas, he witnessed how Europeans have adapted to find their own niche in a game invented a continent away in America.

“European kids that are well coached and have been in really good programs, and there are a lot of them over there, their basketball IQ is off the charts,” Hansen said. “They don’t have the physical attributes that they can rely on when things get tough. They can’t bully their way to the hoop.

“They have to learn to play the game the right way. They learn to use their shoulders, angles and the pick-and-roll. They are looking for advantages constantly. They are smarter in how they play. They are incredible talents. They are better shooters because they have to be.”

Demin fits that mold, and his reputation is so big, at home and abroad, that his announcement to leave Real Madrid to play for BYU was first announced by ESPN’s NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski.

Expectations

Hansen began his BYU career after transferring from Utah Valley. He arrived with big expectations and exceeded them, leading two of his teams to the NCAA Tournament before getting drafted by the Hawks in the second round of the 2003 NBA draft.

Demin will arrive under much different circumstances, where all 30 NBA teams will monitor the teenager’s progress daily.

“I think the best thing about some of these young talents is when you don’t know. I don’t think he knows what he can turn into. I don’t think we know. I don’t think anyone knows,” Hansen said. “I think the talent and skills are there. The work ethic is there. The foundation from Real Madrid is there, so, I don’t know. I just hope he has a killer experience and builds amazing relationships, and we can support him.”

Fitting in

Demin speaks Russian, Spanish and English. When he arrives at BYU he will discover many in the student-body who are returned missionaries and are well-versed in those same languages, including Hansen.

“He’ll love it. He will feel at home,” Hansen said. “We were on a call a couple of days ago and I said, ‘How come you didn’t pick somewhere where you can go to the beach?’ He said, ‘Travis, isn’t Provo like Russia? Isn’t there snow?’ I said, ‘Yes, we have a lot of snow’ and he said, ‘I love the snow. Why would I go to the beach? This is like going home to me.’”

Just as the game of basketball took Hansen from BYU to Europe, it is bringing Demin from Europe to BYU, culminating on opening night, Nov. 5, when BYU’s biggest international recruit since Kresimir Cosic will be formally introduced to his new home at the Marriott Center.

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BYU's head men's basketball coach Kevin Young speaks to reporters after practice at BYU in Provo on Thursday, June 6, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Dave McCann is a sportswriter and columnist for the Deseret News and is a play-by-play announcer and show host for BYUtv/ESPN+. He co-hosts “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com and is the author of the children’s book “C is for Cougar,” available at deseretbook.com.