Friday, July 18, 2008

Moment of Truth

Kyrylo sends one back! Today is the first day of Kyrylo Fesenko's new life. This is, really, the moment of truth for him. Tonight he will suit up and play against the San Antonio Spur's summer league team. While the actual enormity of this game is ripe for satire; in actuality, this game is monumental for the young giant from the Ukraine.

In the mercurial ways of the common Utah Jazz fan (fanatically devoted one week, absolutely despondent the next) the love affair with Fess has currently swung from adoration towards loathing. For the record this is a common feature of jazz fandom (E.g. The on again, off again relationship with franchise leading scorer Karl Malone; the seasonal debate about just how bad Andrei Kirilenko is; or even the roller coaster that has been the Carlos Boozer experience are all great moments in jazz fan history).
Right now it is Fesenko's turn to be vilified.

Really, how much scorn should we heap upon a 2nd rounder who was traded by the team that drafted him without even giving him a shot in pre-season? A player who has only played 9 NBA games in his career? Well, Steve Luhm, of the Salt Lake Tribune, did not even mention Fesenko at all in his article that is a round up of players to watch in the Rocky Mountain Review Summer league, though a 6'2 shooting guard and the Iranian national team deserved the column space that Kyrylo apparently does not. Most Jazz fans have already pronounced his time of death.

Part of this has to deal with the drafting of Ohio State Center Kosta Koufos -- with Kosta around perhaps we don't need Fess? The jazz have made a point of drafting the best player available, and as a result, they drafted this guy who was supposed to be a lotto pick. It's a no brainer, really. It happens to be coincidental that it was another big, white 7 footer with questionable athletic skills. (It has to be coincidence that a single franchise has drafted Mark Eaton, Greg Ostertag, traded on draft day for Curtis Borchardt, traded on draft day for Kyrylo Fesenko, now drafted Kosta Koufos and Ante Tomic in the same draft, right?) Maybe Kosta will prove to be the ultimate demise of Fesenko, but not in Kosta's rookie season, that is for sure. How can you say 'no' to a face like this?

How can I be sure? I am sure because at this point in time, C.J. Miles is still around. He was drafted in 2005, then in 2006 the Jazz drafted Ronnie Brewer. Then the Jazz drafted Morris Almond in 2007. The jazz have been known to draft the same position in consecutive years. We don't have to look too far back to see this. Hence, the Jazz are not going to give up on a 21 year old prospect just because they draft a 19 year old prospect one year later.

Maybe the Jazz would have drafted someone other than a big man, if Fess was so great. Fat chance, we're already over loaded at the wings, and don't need 4 PGs -- plus, best player available was Koufos, so they were going to draft him no matter how great Fess was. If anyone remembers, they drafted Fess to stash him over in Europe, and had no intention of buying out his contract. They worked him out, and had him play in the RMR and were stunned. He was much better than they thought he was, and bought out his contract and he spent the year alternating between playing for the Utah Jazz in the NBA and the Utah Flash, in the NBA-DL. The optimism of those days have given way towards concerns.

Steve Luhm, clearly on the Koufos bandwagon called the Salt Lake Tribune, suggests that the expectations Jazz fans have for Fess are "completely out of whack," (Luhm, 2008). Furthermore, he assumes that the Jazz franchise's only  chance to get him some playing time will be in the D-League, and that he has practically no shot to make the rotation, as Koufos has leapfrogged him already.

Clearly the two games he saw him play in last season were enough to know that Fess sucks. It doesn't help that reports suggest that "Fesenko did not get off to a great start this season . . . [and] Sloan has wondered aloud about his conditioning," (Luhm, 2008). Well, Sloan has in previous seasons wondered aloud about the conditioning of Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur and others who have joined our team, and gotten better. Compounding the problem is that Sloan has been reported to like what he sees in Kosta.

"He's only 19 years old and hasn't had the experience of being here," said Sloan, who had only seen Koufos play on tape when the Jazz drafted him last month. "But he has worked hard. That's all you can ask, and you let the rest of it take care of itself. He has some things that he can work on, as everybody does. But he has some things that can be worthwhile to his career." (Sloan, via Buckley, 2008)

It is funny, though, how quickly people forget. Last season at this point in time the media was raving about Fesenko's Basketball IQ for being so young, about his work ethic and desire to improve. This season he's getting killed in the press and with the subtle shots from Sloan and others. (E.g. "he hasn't has the experience of being here...." but Kyrylo has, and he should be better -- he was so good last year that we have great expectations for him) As such, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate just how good Fess will one day be.

Fesenko and Shaq when Fess was working @ IMG with David Thorpe David Thorpe, who occasionally writes and chats on's NBA website is one of the bigwigs at IMG. He has had the opportunity to not only coach Fess, but also promote him.

When asked about Fesenko in a recent chat, Thorpe said that "[Fesenko] barely practiced when I was there. Sick, injured, etc. He could be a max player, or he could end up back in Ukraine," (Thorpe,, 2008). He later added that while he has not even seen Koufos play, that he "is likely more serious about getting better. Most are, compared to Fes." This is a far cry from the glowing reviews Thorpe used to give Fesenko:
Shaq, alongside "the White Shaq" a few weeks before the 2007 NBA Draft.  

"[Fess is] really really smart . . . and huge"(August 29, 2007);

"[the] sleeper of the draft . . . think Biedrins and Pachulia combined-relentless in the paint and very coordinated. I call him "White Shaq" . . . One scout told me that he'd have been a top 10 pick had he played American college ball this past year . . . " (Thorpe, ESPN, August 22, 2007)

Sounds bad, right? Apparently the crux of the problem happens to be that he is not showing the same effort that he used to, and that individuals feel as though he is not really that serious. That really does sound bad. But step off from the ledge fans, it's not all bad. Scott Layden, who is the coach of the RMR squad has worked with Fess quite a bit this summer. He has seen more of him than Sloan has, and probably has seen a more motivated version of him than Thorpe has lately. (Fess worked with Thorpe to, primarily, get good enough to be drafted I think. Now that he's under contract, he may be taking things Shaq like in the summer.) Layden spoke with DJ and PK a few mornings ago on KFan 1320 and had some good things to say.

"This is a time for Fess to work on his game, and to get minutes . . . Kosta will play the 4 when Fess is in the game . . . Fess is a good low post player and a very good passer . . . [Fess] is developing, he's doing a good job, last night was probably his best practice of this early training camp . . . he does some things: he blocks shots, he's big, he's another guy [that] at his size he changes ends very well . . . that's one thing that Fess can do very well, he stays in the flow of the game, he gets back and can anchor the defense, [he's got] good timing on blocking shots, he's a handful in the post because of his size, and then he enjoys passing -- he's not a ballhog. When he catches it in the post, and a guy is open he'll hit him. He's got some cute little passes out of the post and he can score and rebound and so we're excited about him . . . when you look at young players you got to have patience, you got to have to look at what the potential is and how far they come. These guys are making progress . . . Kevin [O'Connor] and Walt Perrin do their homework, they get guys in here who can play for Coach Sloan in this system, and they get guys that want to get better and are getting better." (Scott Layden, 2008)

Clearly there is yet good in Fesenko, and there are people who still see the benefit of keeping him around. If I'm making a team I'd take a poor-man's Shaq over a poor-man's Memo any day. That is not to say that I dislike Koufos, I hope he does well, and becomes a solid player for our team for years to come. I just think that news of Fesenko's death are slightly premature.

That said, he has to want to get better, he has to show people that he is getting better -- and most importantly, he has to get better. This is the first day of the rest of his life . . . you have to show that you can dominate in the RMR to prove that you belong on an NBA roster. (Failure at this level means no shot at the NBA) Tonight against San Antonio he has to come out and be that violent apelord that we know he can be . . . especially with some new Rookie breathing down his neck -- who is apparently already ahead of him on the depth charts.

Violent Apelord Team Logo Violent Apelord Player

Exhibit A -- The Violent Apelord (or whatever the heck his Ukrainian team mascot is)

Exhibit B -- The Violent Apelord, aka. Kyrylo Fesenko

For Kyrylo Fesenko he must write his destiny, starting tonight, with his actions on the court. Forget what media writes about him, forget the doubters, work hard, don't get caught up in mind games with Coach Sloan, and play the way that he is capable of . . . and he will once again be loved by Utah Jazz fans all over. This is his moment of truth.