SALT LAKE CITY — Not even his head coach knew that Andrei Kirilenko became a United States citizen Monday afternoon.
The 10-year Utah Jazz veteran had kept it quiet from Jerry Sloan and all except a few teammates and didn't want to make a big deal about it, although he was proud to talk about it with the media before Jazz practice Tuesday morning.
Kirilenko and his wife, Masha, both took the citizenship tests and were sworn in as American citizens at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office, just off the freeway at 5300 South. Their two sons are already citizens, having been born in the United States, and they have a young daughter, adopted from Russia, who will be a citizen someday, according to Andrei.
"It's an important decision for me and my family," Kirilenko said. "I'm very grateful for the two countries, America and Russia. I really feel I'm a double citizen. I was born in Russia and grew up there and then I came to America and learned a lot. I'm really grateful for everything I have since I've got here, on and off the court."
Kirilenko, who turns 30 next month, was drafted by the Jazz in June of 1999. At the time he was the youngest European player to be drafted by the NBA when he was picked in the first round with the 24th overall pick.
After playing in Europe for a couple of years, he came to the Jazz for the 2001-02 season and has played in Utah for nine seasons, averaging 12.4 points and 5.7 rebounds.
He said after living in the United States for 10 years, "it was time" for him to become a citizen.
Kirilenko said his wife was "very emotional" about the ceremony. At first he called the test, which was both written and oral, "tough," but said he and his wife had little trouble passing it.
"I know for some guys it's kind of trouble, but it wasn't a very hard test," he said.
And what was the toughest question for Kirilenko? After thinking for a minute, he replied, "Why the colonists didn't like Great Britain. It was taxation without representation. I said everyone wanted freedom."
Among the other questions, were "How many amendments to the Constitution?" "Which territory was given to the U.S. from France?" and "Who is the vice president?
"I knew it was (Joe) Biden, but I was ready for who is the third in charge," he said, referring to the speaker of the House.31 comments on this story
Kirilenko said he knew most of the questions already, but learned a few things in his studies like the fact that Woodrow Wilson was president during World War I, which he said was "surprising."
He said his family back in Russia is happy for him.
"Everybody supported me," he said. "I didn't refuse to be a Russian. Right now I have the opportunity to live in both countries and be a citizen."
When Sloan was asked about Kirilenko becoming a citizen, he said, "I wasn't aware of that. Good for him. Andrei's a wonderful guy."