Handy Andy on title trail
DAVID Andersen is a rare breed - an Aussie drafted into the NBA currently playing in Russia for Euroleague champs CSKA Moscow!
The 6'11" star, a product of the famed Aussie Institute of Sport, played for the Wollongong Hawks in his homeland before coming to Europe to Virtus Bologna, Siena and, for the past three seasons, CSKA.
Having missed most of last season with a horrific leg injury, the 26-year-old centre tells UKTVSlam he is relishing the chance to make the Final Four this time around.
UKTVSlam: How's the season been so far?
DA: It's going pretty good. There have been a couple of ups and downs so far but more ups than downs so it's been pretty satisfying.
UKTVSlam: Talk us through your early years in Australia.
DA: I went to the AIS when I was 15 and when I first went there it was a bit of a move for me, leaving home at a young age. But it was a great step for me basketball-wise and as a person. I had two-and-a-half years there before turning pro in Australia and it was a great experience.
UKTVSlam: Were you not tempted to try your luck in the States?
DA: I had a lot of interest from colleges - UCLA and Arizona were talking to me. They had seen me on the international scene with the Australian junior team so they were very interested. But I made the decision, I had been away from home for two-and-a-half years so I would rather stay in Australia and be close to my family for as long as possible. As things worked out, I went to Europe after a year!
UKTVSlam: So your wish to stay closer to home brought you to Moscow?!
DA: Moscow has been great for me and this team and organisation have been great. You ask people, and they find you a nice apartment! They really look after you and do everything they can to make sure you are happy and fit in with the team. They show you around Moscow and, as a city it's huge, you can find everything you want here. There have been no real dramas, it's been a positive experience for me to come over and see a different culture.
UKTVSlam: The one drama you did have to contend with was your leg injury last season, though.
DA: I dislocated my ankle and fibula, they snapped basically, when we were playing Real Madrid ... on Australia Day! I went back to Australia for the surgery and was out for seven months. I came back in time for pre-season to try and get my legs back.
UKTVSlam: It can't be easy coming back from that sort of injury?
DA: It was a pretty tough pre-season. I spent a lot of time at home, rehabbing, getting my strength back. In the off-season, I'd done a lot of athletic work to get fit. I think it's all paid off because I'm starting to play good basketball. I'm feeling pretty fit, touch wood. I wouldn't say it's been a positive experience but things like this help you grow up, it matures you.
I did a bit of pool running in the initial phase, then pool pilates, interesting stuff with the trainer. Also, I just lifted a lot of weights and did strength work. I used an athletics coach and he got me going, got me fit. I'm moving well, got the running ability back up to top notch.
UKTVSlam: Do you feel you're completely over the injury then?
DA: These things can take years to get back to full strength so I'm conscious of it and working hard but I think I'm back to where I was and now I'm trying to increase my jump and speed, doing extra work and getting stronger and more agile as a player.
UKTVSlam: You were drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in 2002, is the NBA still an ambition?
DA: Atlanta still have my rights. They drafted me four years ago in the second round and I've been talking with them. There's been an interest since they saw me start to perform in Euroleague. Unfortunately, they haven't come to the table with an offer to get over there.
I haven't been to a summer league because I've been very busy in the off-seasons with the Aussie national team but the NBA has always been a goal of mine, I said that from the get-go. To play in the biggest league in the world has always been a goal. To have a crack, see how you can cut it in that league.
Now, after last season, if I hadn't got hurt I probably would have stepped up and tried a shot. Hopefully, Atlanta would have come to the game a bit more and thrown me a decent contract.
It's always in the back of your mind and I'm working towards it. I'm concentrating on this but hopefully towards the end of the season if something comes up, I can get into more discussions with them, something more serious. Maybe, next year or the year after that.
UKTVSlam: So would you consider leaving CSKA for the NBA?
DA: I have another year on my contract with CSKA but I have an NBA get-out clause, there is a buy-out which is an option. We will see how that goes and there will be more discussions as the season progresses.
UKTVSlam: CSKA are at the forefront of a real upturn in Russian basketball, are you guys conscious of that?
DA: Russian teams are making a name for themselves. They have stepped up a lot. Before, people were a bit sceptical to come over here, people thought players were getting a bad deal. Nowadays there are a good five teams paying big bucks, enticing quality European players. Even lower level teams are getting better players and the league is evening out a bit more.
There are four or five powerhouse teams making it tough at the top, they have really stepped up. It makes it a lot more difficult when you are playing Russian league games because a lot of Russian teams are making a noise in Europe now - not just Euroleague but ULEB and the FIBA Cup. It's been a big positive for Russian basketball.
UKTVSlam: Moving from Russia to Australia. What's the state of the game at home?
DA: Basketball is pretty well-developed in Australia. It's one of the most participated sports although it's not followed so much in the media.
Australia is producing good quality players who are playing well around the world. The national team programme is going through a phase of rebuilding. Shane Heal, Andrew Gaze, Brad Dalton, Luc Longley, Andrew Vlahov, the older veterans have been carrying the torch. Now younger guys - me, Matt Nielsen, Andrew Bogut - have a different kind of style.
It's a bit of a transition at the moment but hopefully at the next Olympics we can make a bit of noise, show what we've got a bit. It's been positive and there's a bit of a future there. Maybe in London we might have a crack at it and have a medal. We're looking forward to Beijing.
UKTVSlam: That's in the future. For now, are you optimistic CSKA can repeat as Euroleague champions?
DA: We're always optmistic, that's one of the good things about playing for a team like CSKA.The goal is to reach the Final Four and hopefully win it.
We don't think too far ahead, just one game at a time so now we're looking at the last 16.
We're establishing ourselves as one of the premier teams in the league at the moment. We've got a good record, we're playing pretty good basketball. Right now, it's a question of sticking with it and fighting through these games.
It's a tough schedule but we're all positive around the club. Now we can hopefully get back to the Final Four. It comes down to a bit of luck but I think we have talent, team chemistry we can hopefully get it done.
UKTVSlam: And, on a personal level, having missed last year's Final, you must be relishing the chance to get back there?
DA: I'll certainly be looking forward to it. That's what we're here for - to win the Final Four again.
Courtesy of FIBA.com