Thursday, January 16, 2014

Prokhorov's Right Hand Man: Who is Sergey Kuschenko?

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Mikhail Prokhorov may be a self-made billionaire and a blooming sports mogul, but you just don't get to that status by yourself. Enter Sergey Kuschenko, Prokhorov's top sports advisor and right-hand man.

While Prokhorov has been uncharacteristically quiet and largely absent from the Brooklyn Nets' 2013-14 season, Kuschenko appears to be taking on a bigger role within the organization. A successful basketball executive in his own right, Kuschenko founded the Russian basketball club Ural-Great of Perm, Russia in 1995. Though the franchise dissolved in 2008, it won two championships and a EuroCup Challenge in its time, becoming one of the country's more successful teams, and reportedly sold out every home game.

After moving on from Ural-Great in 2002, Kuschenko went on to become the leader of CSKA Moscow, perhaps the most prestigious basketball club in all of Russia. During his time there, Kuschenko brought Moscow out of its funk, where it had fallen to a middling status in the Russian Super League, and restored it to its former and current glory. Moscow, led by Kuschenko, won a title in his first year at the helm and is on a current streak of 11 straight championships. CSKA has also won two Euroleague titles under Kuschenko's watch.

From there, his rise to prominence in European basketball skyrocketed. He attracted the attention of Prokhorov, the charismatic, 6'8" sports enthusiast who once ran for the presidency of Russia. In 2009, Prokhorov hand-picked Kuschenko to become the CEO of the Russian Biathlon Union, establishing a relationship between the two that has developed into an important one for the Nets franchise – he was appointed to the team's board of directors in 2011. Kuschenko remains Prokhorov's top advisor on all sports-related matters.

In Prokhorov's absence, Kuschenko has begun to show his face more and more around team practices and games. Fellow Russian Andrei Kirilenko spoke with Tin Bontemps of the New York Post, lauding Kuschenko's dedication to basketball, to the Nets, and to Prokhorov:

"He is a basketball fanatic," Kirilenko said. "I've known him since he was at Ural-Great...He's always been crazy about basketball. He gets involved in a lot of basketball in Russia. I'm not surprised he's around. I think [Prokhorov is] lucky to have Sergey on his side, because he's really a guy who knows a lot about basketball."

Kuschenko also told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News that things are looking up for the Nets:

"The expectations were high, and the pressure was high during the year, but right now we can see the parts are clicking and finally we are maybe on the right track right now," Kuschenko said during a practice session at O2 Arena in London before the Nets' game in Europe against the Atlanta Hawks later today. "Because there was [sic] so much changes, and it always takes time, always takes time to make things work. But right now, it looks like we're on the right track."

It appears that Kirilenko's statement – that Prokhorov is "lucky" to have Kuschenko – is an astute one. Kuschenko's experience in turning a bad team around and making it a great one is invaluable to the Nets right now, especially after their catastrophic start to the year. Kuschenko taking more of a leadership role for Brooklyn can only be a good thing.

Winners of five out of their last six, the Nets square off against the Hawks in a highly-anticipated matchup in London this afternoon. It is likely that Kuschenko will be in attendance.

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