SALT LAKE CITY — The familiar Russian accent, the big smile, the friendly greeting, the amicable personality, the broken-but-understandable English and the No. 47 jersey were all back in EnergySolutions Arena today.
Shortly after his new team concluded its morning prep work for tonight's game against the Utah Jazz, Andrei Kirilenko spent about 7-8 minutes visiting with 20 media members outside of a place he'd never been before making this trip to Salt Lake City with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"Very unusual," Kirilenko said when asked what it was like to be in Utah as a visitor after playing in EnergySolutions Arena for 10 years as a Jazzman. "I didn't even know where the guest locker room was. Right now, I know it.
"I haven't been in there yet," Kirilenko said about the visiting locker room. "I'm afraid to go in."
As expected, Kirilenko was charming, gracious and appreciative — even a bit funny — while speaking about the Jazz and his return to the place he's long considered his second home. Speaking of which, yes, AK-47 still owns his Salt Lake City abode.
"Yeah, I still have a house here. Yesterday I've been there. It looks a little bit lonely," Kirilenko said, grinning. "But ... it's life. We'll always try and do the best thing for your family and for yourself."
Here's the rest of the Q&A session with Kirilenko, whose T-Wolves (14-13) are in town to take on the Jazz (15-17) for the first time this season:
What do you think the reception will be for you tonight?
I had a great 10 years here. I feel like I know every fan for the first 10 rows. It's going to be fun. It's going to be very strange, strange feeling, but I guess that's the basketball life.
What was your favorite part about Utah?
Everything. I grew up here as a player, as an NBA player. I come into the league 19, 20 years old, become an All-Star (in 2004) and get in the majority of my career here. There is tons of great moments here. There is no one moment. It's a part of my life in here.
How would you like to be remembered here? Your Utah Jazz legacy?
I've always been a fan of being remembered as a good person rather than just a good player. I think if the people remember you as a good personality, I think it goes a long way rather than just being a good player but being a jackass or whatever.
What was it like walking on to the court in here for the first time this morning?
I was thinking that, 'How many games did I play here? About 500, 400 games. That's a lot. Every game is special. It really feels special when you're playing for 10 years with the same team. It's a great feeling.
Not many players are left from when you played here. Are you looking forward to seeing anybody in particular?
You know, Paul (Millsap), Al (Jefferson), Gordon (Hayward), those guys. Earl Watson. There's tons of guys who I played with and they're still here. But you know how I feel special is when I step into the EnergySolution and I see all the staff who works here during those 10 years I've been here. And I know them by name. Every one of them. It's so, so interesting. They're happy to see me. I've been very happy to see them. That's special.
Are you hoping Jerry Sloan will be here tonight so you can visit with him?
He's coming? Karl, John, Jerry, if they can all be here it'd be great.
Did you have dinner with former teammates or friends?
We have a very short time here. It's only one. I met my wife. She came back and she's going to be at the game.
This summer coming back from Russia, did you have any thoughts of joining the Jazz again?
During the lockout, I stayed in Russia and kind of prepared for the Olympic Games. I had a great season there. I always think that I have to go back to the NBA because the level of the game is way different. During the offseason, the Jazz really have small forward position is filled out. It's all about the role of GM. It's pretty tough when you got like three or four guys, same type, the same position. It's just game time is going to affect you. You don't want to be in a situation where your game time is affected. You want to play.
Has Minnesota been a great fit for you?
It's a great fit. Rick Adelman is a great coach. Actually, he played in so many games here (against his teams) as well. I'm very happy we beat Houston. We lost to Sacramento, though, in those playoffs (2003). He's a great coach. He's a players' coach. Everybody knows that, but I feel pretty good.
The team is overachieving it seems like, without having a healthy Kevin Love for most of the year. How have you been able to find success?
I kind of look at this team as a team we had after Karl and John left (in 2003-04). It's just kind of a similarity. You remember the season we didn't make the playoff by one game, but the team was so excited playing at a high pace, fighting, even though nobody counted on us. This team, Minnesota, has really reminded me of that season. We're very young, ambitious, really grinding and fighting for a spot in the playoffs. It's fun to play that way every night. You want to get the extra win.
How many more years can you play?
I'm still running. As long as you're running and as long as you feel good, you keep playing.
How much of an advantage was playing in this building with the loud crowd?
I can see they’re probably one of the loyalest and hardest fan for the opposite team. They've always been very, very supportive for the Utah Jazz. I bet tonight is going to be tough to play against it because it's a really momentum game. Jazz going to get the momentum and it's going to be tough to stop.
They might welcome you at first, but as soon as the ball's tipped?
I hope we going to start paying well and we don't let them get that momentum.
How did it feel not walking down that hallway and stopping short and walking into this room (visitors locker room)?
I didn't even know the guest locker room was here. I was like, 'Where is the guest locker room? OK, right here.'
Are you still involved in the charity work you did here?
Yes, Kirilenko's Kids is still working in Utah and back in Russia. We're doing a lot of projects. The latest one we started in Russia is school basketball. We involve a lot of schools, not professional basketball schools, but just the regular schools. They play in a lot of tournaments.
Thank you, guys. I'll see you tonight.
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