Andrei grew up in St. Petersburg as the older of two boys. His father was a pro soccer coach and his mom was a teacher and former professional basketball player. They lived in a tiny, one-bathroom, rat- and roach-infested apartment with two other families. Andrei's mom worked two jobs, and he had to sew his one pair of sports shoes every week so that they remained useable. That pair of shoes lasted him two years.
When AK was 7, his first coach visited his school looking for promising athletes. Noting that Andrei wore a key around his neck, the coach knew that he was an independent kid. AK would bike across the city after school to get to the gym, and never missed a practice. He transferred to a sports school when he was 11, and his mom would attend his games and yell at him, "Andrei, baseline! Baseline! Hands up! Hands up!"
Both of his parents lost their jobs when the USSR collapsed, and financial difficulties led to his parents divorcing. Although he was only ten at the time, Andrei felt that it was on his shoulders to support the family. He rarely ever left the gym and often exhausted himself until he was on the verge of vomiting. He became the youngest professional basketball player in Russian history when he turned pro at the age of 15. At this point, he became the breadwinner of his family and is proud of the fact that his parents haven't had to work since then.
After playing for the St. Petersburg team for one year, 16-year old Andrei moved to Moscow by himself, and lived alone in a studio apartment while playing for CSKA Moscow. In his first season, he helped his team win the Russian Superleague championship, played in the All-Star Game, and won the dunk contest. In 1999, he became the youngest European player (18 years, 132 days) ever drafted by an NBA team when the Jazz selected him with the 24th pick. His mom was petrified for him because Andrei was so skinny, and she thought the "big, burly men" in the NBA would just kill him. Fortunately, Andrei stayed with CSKA for two more years, and spent the time working on his strength to better prepare himself for the NBA.
It was also in 1999 that Andrei took part in a charity basketball game and met Masha, whose company was sponsoring the event. She liked his humor and easy smile, but decided it was ridiculous to even contemplate pursuing anything because she was 26 and he was only 18.
CSKA Moscow won its second Russian Superleague championship as well as the inaugural Eastern European Basketball League Championship in AK's second season, and he was again an All-Star while coming in second in the dunk contest. He played for the Russian national team that summer, and finished in the top ten in 7 out of 8 statistical categories in the European Championships the following year. A year after Andrei and Masha met, her company was profiled by Vogue and she contacted Andrei for a photo shoot. They met up half an hour after she called him, and have been together ever since. He proposed shortly thereafter, and they got married right before he reported to Utah in 2001.
(Said a smiling Jerry in 2001: "He's been a breath of fresh air because he's so enthusiastic. He's just a wonderful person.")
Carlos' dad, Carlos Sr., was in the military, and he and his elder sister were born in Germany. When he was six months old, the family moved to D.C., which was where both of his parents were from. His dad was working multiple jobs trying to support the family, and some nights all they had for dinner was bologna and one slice of bread. Eventually, the Boozers decided to move to Alaska in search of a better life. They literally just packed up, drove cross-country, and settled in Juneau, where everyone knows everyone else's dog's name.
When Carlos decided that he wanted to become a basketball player, his dad put him to work. Having observed that many college players didn't have a left hand, Carlos Sr. began tying down Carlos' right hand and made him dribble and shoot with his left until his left hand became strong. Not only that, his dad made him eat with his left hand, and Carlos even learned to write with his left hand. Meanwhile, his mom, Renee, stressed education and had a rule that none of the five kids could participate in any extracurricular activities unless they maintained a 3.0 GPA. Carlos couldn't play basketball until she got home from work everyday and checked his homework. He and his dad would go practice daily at a nearby elementary school, and being a real skinny kid, he would do suicide drills with strength shoes to build up his calves and hammies (not making this up).
By his junior year, he was heavily recruited (three overflowing barrels of letters) and narrowed the field down to Duke, St. John's, and UCLA. He played on the same AAU team with DeShawn Stevenson (who takes credit for giving him the nickname "C-Booz"). During his high school career, Boozer was named Alaska's Player of the Year three times and made the McDonald's All-Star game. His team won two consecutive state titles during his sophomore and junior years, and as a senior, he averaged 29 and 12.
Boozer decided to play at Duke, and helped the team win the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship his sophomore season. According to Coach K, he loved coaching Carlos because he was the ultimate teammate, and the only thing he had to get on Carlos about was taking more shots. He shot over 60% all three years at Duke, and averaged 18 & 9 as a junior. Following his junior season, he declared for the 2002 NBA Draft. On the night of the draft, he watched his teammates (White Chocolate, Dunleavy) getting drafted and by the time he heard his name got called (Cleveland, 34th), it wasn't excitement, but relief. At that point, he wiped away his tears and vowed to prove to all the teams that had passed on him that they had made a mistake.
Memo's maternal grandmother was taken prisoner when the Nazis stormed through Ukraine and spent part of her youth in a Polish concentration camp. She used to sneak out under the wire fences, steal potatoes from a nearby farm, and distribute them to other prisoners. Her husband, Memo's grandfather, was a wrestling champion. The Okurs were immigrants to Turkey, and Memo's dad worked as a handyman. Memo was delivered at home by a midwife, and was already more than two feet long/tall when he was 6 weeks old. Soon, he was drinking 4 liters of milk a day.
As a student, Memo was far from studious and once managed to cut class for 19 days straight so that he could play soccer or hang out at the video arcade. The school would send a kid to the arcade to tell Memo to go to school, and Memo would send the kid back to school and then head home to intercept notices about his absence. His parents tried to instill in him the importance of education by giving him a taste of the "real world," aka having him--then 13 years old--drive the pick-up truck from which his relative sold appliances around town. Unfortunately, the plan backfired because Memo enjoyed "working" much more than going to school.
Memo's first love was soccer, and was turning into a promising goalie when he got too big for the goal. At the same time, he was starting to catch the occasional NBA game on TV, and was recruited to train with a factory team while playing a pick-up game.
At 14 years old, he was already 6'4". Realizing that his son was no future Rhodes Scholar and that soccer wasn't in his future either, Memo's dad connected with the manager of a Turkish first division team with a reputation for developing talent. The team took on Memo, and he was able to finish high school. "[Turkish word for] Handsome," as his teammates called him, developed quickly as a basketball player and he was having a good ol' time.
After a year, he was traded to another team. Having been a bench player in his career thus far, Memo got an opportunity to start when the head coach of his team resigned and the assistant, who had spent a great deal of time working with Memo, took over. Unfortunately, the team folded and Memo was suddenly team-less. As he was planning to enter the NBA Draft the following year, he decided not to take any of the big contracts he was being offered and instead signed a one-year contract with Istanbul-based Efes Pilsen. Although he came off the bench, Memo won his third straight Turkish Cup and his second straight Final Four MVP award. He spent the summer working out for NBA teams, and worked out for Joe Dumars on the day of the draft. 15 minutes into the workout, Rick Mahorn told Dumars, "Looks like you've found your man." The Pistons ended up drafting Memo later that day with the 38th pick.
The Pistons wanted him in uniform right away, but Memo felt that getting one year of starting experience with his Turkish club would benefit him, and signed another one-year contract with Efes Pilson. That summer, Memo got his first start for the Turkish national team and lead Turkey to the silver medal in the European championships. He signed a two-year deal with the Pistons the following summer, and played in 72 games in his rookie season. That summer, he met Yeliz and got engaged after a whirlwind romance. He struggled during his second season under new coach Larry Brown, who didn't want him making it rain money taking outside shots. Detroit won the championship that year, but was in dire salary cap straits. As a result, the Pistons couldn't match Utah's offer and Memo became a Jazzman. Like Andrei, he and Yeliz got married right before he reported to SLC.
Ronnie Price grew up in a huge family: his paternal grandmother had 21 biological children and raised foster kids as well. He also grew up a Rockets fan, and says that he can list the entire rosters of the championship teams.
As a kid, his first loves were football (in which he played quarterback, running back, and safety) and baseball (shortstop and second base), and it wasn't until his cousin Trey showed him Pistol Pete and Isiah Thomas highlights and putting him through basketball drills that he developed an interest in the sport. Soon enough, he realized that all he wanted to do was play basketball and be a professional athlete, and after Trey (who was 6 or 7 years older) joined the Navy upon graduating from high school, it was Ronnie's parents that became his support base and encouraged him to follow his dream. According to his mom, Ronnie "lived with the basketball. He slept with it. The basketball was his buddy. Everywhere he went that basketball was with him." As with Deron, he had to make a decision on which sport to focus on once he reached high school. (Is this a Texas thing?)
Ronnie P was only 5'4" when he entered high school, and at first started on the freshman team. By the end of the year, he'd been called up to varsity. Despite his family being "as broke as you can be," the Prices found money for Ronnie to travel to AAU practices and tournaments. He began drawing interest from local schools during his junior year, but broke his shooting wrist early on in his senior season. That compounded with his size (5'7" and 150 lbs.) landed him at Louisiana's Nicholls State, whose assistant coach, Sheldon Jones, had met a 13-year old Ronnie at an LSU basketball camp and was a long-time fan.
The head coach of the team resigned after Ronnie's first year, and he took part in a review for junior college players trying to get into four-year programs. Meanwhile, Jones had gotten a job at Utah Valley, and introduced him to head coach Dick Hunsaker. Hunsaker went to Ronnie's house and met his family, and Ronnie knew he wanted to play for him. Hunsaker also provided Ronnie with a Utah Valley brochure, and a cheerleader in the brochure caught his eye. He said that he would find her when he got to Orem, and he did. Ronnie and Jenni were married in 2008.
In Ronnie's senior season at Utah Valley, he ranked third in the nation in scoring (24 ppg) and was named Division I Independent Player of the Year. However, he went undrafted and worked out for several teams, including the Jazz that summer. He became the first player in Utah Valley history to go directly into the NBA when the Kings signed him to a two-year contract, and during his stint in Saramento, he had the career highlight that will likely never be topped (at least in my eyes):
Ronnie eventually signed with the Jazz as a free agent in 2007.
http://www.kirilenko.ru (has been down for a while)
SLTrib article "AK's mom tells all" published in 2008
SLTrib article published in 2008 (quoted here: http://www.basketballjohn.com/2008/02/01/williams-wizards-web/)
SLTrib article "Kragthorpe: At home in Texas" published in 2008
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