Andrei Kirilenko was drafted by the Utah Jazz in 1999 when he was an unknown 18-year-old from Russia. He joined the Jazz in 2001 and earned all-rookie honors his first year. Three years later, he was selected to represent Utah in the NBA All-Star Game.
After 10 seasons with the Jazz, his contract wasn’t renewed. He joined Minnesota last year before signing with Brooklyn this year. When the Nets played in Utah last week, Kirilenko talked with Deseret News sportswriter Mike Sorensen about his time in Utah, going to Brooklyn and having the Winter Olympics in his home country.
What kind of memories do you have when you come back to Salt Lake?
I have a lot of memories. This is the team that made me who I am. Ten years being in the Jazz uniform really established myself as an NBA player. I’ll always be grateful for that. My kids were born here. On the way from the airport, my son was bugging the bus driver, who asked him if he’d ever been to Utah. He said, "Man, I was born here."
How is it being reunited with Deron Williams with the Nets this year?
Deron is a great teammate and I’ve known him for many, many years, so it wasn’t a big problem to find a guy you’ve known a long time back in the lineup. Our kids and wives know each other. We still keep it like it’s a family.
What do you think about the Jazz honoring coach Jerry Sloan and putting his name in the rafters?
They should have done it a long time ago. He definitely deserves it. Coach Sloan, Karl Malone, John Stockton ... that’s a huge era for Jazz basketball and it definitely needs to be shown here in Salt Lake City. I give huge credit to Utah. It’s always been a team who really worried about team chemistry, being a family, rather than just teammates. The tradition continues. Of course it’s a little bit different, but all the memories are still there.
How have you been enjoying the Olympics in Russia the past couple of weeks?
I think it’s a great event and I still remember the Olympics here in Salt Lake City. Right now it’s in Sochi in Russia and I’m very proud. I’m not involved in it, but I feel like I am. People have a chance to see my country. But I’m still proud of Utah. When the guy from Park City won the snowboarding, I was like, "Oh, my man won it."
What do you miss most about Utah?
Not necessarily the weather or the buildings, but the people. We still have a lot of friends here and keep in touch. That’s the most thing that we’re missing. We have a lot of fans here that I’m looking forward to seeing. Salt Lake will always be my second home from Russia. You never know how your career is going to go, but I still have my house here. We still love Utah. We still come here often — my wife loves skiing here. We definitely miss the people and our friends.