Pashutin faces stern test in Kazan comeback

PHOTO: EUROLEAGUE.NET

With his new team struggling, UNICS Kazan head coach Yevgeny Pashutin has little choice.

“We need to rally, end as quickly as possible the continuing losing streak and start a new series of wins. Desirably, as soon as Thursday,” Pashutin, 45, told Sport Express daily newspaper in an interview carried today.

On Wednesday, Pashutin was appointed new head coach of the Tatarstan-based outfit, following the sacking of his predecessor Argyris Pedoulakis over a string of poor results in the early stages of the new season.

“The return to Kazan is a serious challenge. I took over a team that possesses skills and character, sufficient to compete for top spots in all tournaments. I will try to do all I can to reach these goals,” said Pashutin, who had to quit his job as head coach of recently created, experimental Rossiya team competing in second-tier Superliga. Pashutin’s younger brother Zakhar, 40, takes over Rossiya whose major purpose is to nurture talented local players groomed to break into Russia’s national team coached by Pashutin Sr.

Tonight, Pashutin’s squad faces Anadoly Efes at home in another stern Euroleague test with as much at stake as UNICS’ Top 16 bid, which in case of failure against Turkish giants could be almost impossible to save.

If Pashutin’s past record in Kazan is anything to go by, he should be able to turn his team’s fortunes around and secure passage to the next stage.

In his previous stint (2010-2012) with UNICS, Pashutin won the Eurocup title in 2011 and made a splash a year later clinching Euroleague playoffs. The team’s dream of grabbing a Final Four berth was eventually shattered by Barcelona as the Catalans swept UNICS in three games. After his tremendously successful season Pashutin had unexpectedly jumped ship, lured by a lucrative offer from another Russian top club, Lokomotiv Kuban. Following his departure, UNICS changed four coaches in two years, the latest reshuffle taking place in July when Pedoulakis succeeded Andrea Trinchieri who moved to Germany to coach Brose Baskets.

The Greek tactician did steer UNICS to a Euroleague qualifying tournament victory in late September, but his team toiled through the first half of pool play, winning only once in five games in Group A. Last week’s dismal performances in the VTB United League and back-to-back losses to Nizhny Novgorod at home and Krasnye Krylya away spoilt UNICS’ domestic record and Sunday’s loss to the Samara underdog proved to be the last straw.

UNICS President Yevgeny Bogachev initially threw his support behind Pedoulakis, but apparently reassessed the situation after the disappointing loss in the south of Russia, his team’s fourth in a row.

“When I spoke about my trust in Pedoulakis, I was absolutely honest. Indeed, just a couple of days ago we didn’t plan to part ways with him. We sincerely believed we could overcome the crisis, but… The defeat by Krasnye Krylya [was the last drop that] made the cup run over,” today’s Sport Express quotes Bogachev as saying. “You could say that Pedoulakis failed to use his last chance. If the team had won, we would have had the same head coach now. But four consecutive losses are too much. I had to intervene urgently. Pedoulakis knew what was in store in case of a loss in Samara and he accepted his dismissal with understanding.”

Local media have criticized Pedoulakis for putting his stakes on UNICS’ foreign players and neglecting Russian talent, and his limited knowledge of English further complicated the communication process, often forcing the coach to talk to his players via interpreter.