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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Monya Eager to Make Waves in NBA

Euroleague PhotosRussian national team forward Sergei Monya throwing down a dunk for CSKA in Euroleague action last season.
It's been a rough year for Sergei Monya.

One of Russia's top basketball prospects in recent years, Monya, 22, spent most of last season languishing on the bench for European powerhouse CSKA Moscow and regretting that he had not left Moscow for the NBA to join the Trail Blazers in Portland, Oregon, who selected him as the No. 23 pick in the 2004 NBA Draft.

With little possibility for individual achievements due to the limited playing time he received under CSKA's ironfisted coach Dusan Ivkovic, the springy, sweet-shooting forward also found little solace in the performance of his team. Talent-laden CSKA managed to win its third straight Russian championship but failed in its primary goal for the season, crashing out in a semifinal game of the Euroleague Final Four in front of the home fans at Olympiiskii Stadium last month despite entering the tournament as the overwhelming favorite.

Moreover, far more disturbing than his on-court difficulties, Monya's girlfriend Ksenia was carjacked by two men on June 4 while driving his new BMW. The carjackers drove the BMW to the Domodedovo district of the Moscow region, where they let Ksenia out of the car and drove off.

"Thank God nothing happened to her," Monya said in a recent interview. "She got quite a scare, but she's all right."

Understandably, Monya says he is eager to sign a contract with Portland and travel to the United States to play in the team's summer league and to begin adapting to the quicker pace and more athletic style of the NBA, the strongest professional league in the world.

It's a move the Saratov native said he should have made last year.

"If I had known it was gong to be like this, I would have done everything I could to leave," Monya said of his lack of playing time with CSKA. "I took it really hard."

The main reason Monya did not go to Portland after he was drafted was that his contract with CSKA did not have a clause allowing him to terminate the contract should he choose to go to the NBA, said Reed Salwen, the Europe representative of U.S. agent Marc Fleisher, who represents Monya.

Monya still has two years remaining on his contract, but the escape clause has now been agreed on by all sides, meaning the contract will be voided when he goes to Portland, while CSKA will receive financial compensation for the loss of his services, Salwen said. He declined to name the amount of the buyout.

"[Monya] has informed CSKA of his intentions, and Portland is ready to sign him," Salwen said.

It was perhaps a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time for Monya this season. With the largest budget -- hovering around $30 million -- and the deepest roster in Europe, CSKA was under enormous pressure to win the Euroleague championship in front of the home crowd after losing in the semifinals each of the previous two seasons: in Tel Aviv in 2004 and Barcelona the year before.

The heat was on Ivkovic in particular, and the legendary Serb coach opted to put his fate in the hands of more experienced hired foreign guns, such as Americans Marcus Brown and Antonio Granger, rather than the comparatively untested Monya.

The team's Final Four disaster sounded the death knell for Ivkovic's future with the team. Immediately after CSKA captured the Russian championship, Ivkovic announced he would not be returning to Moscow. The club has since hired Italian coach Ettore Messina, widely considered one of the top coaches in Europe.

Monya, however, said he doesn't begrudge Ivkovic for going with the veterans.

"I just wish they had told me ahead of time so I could have gone to Portland and practiced and played with the team and improved my game," Monya said. "And the coach never sat down with me and explained why I wasn't playing."

Monya played well this season when he did take the floor for CSKA.

In the Euroleague, Europe's premier competition, he averaged 3.2 rebounds and 6.9 points on 54.7 percent shooting from the field, including 38.6 percent from behind the 3-point line, while playing less than 14 minutes per game. He also provided much-needed energy off the bench on several occasions, rebounding aggressively, diving for loose balls, knocking down 3-pointers and throwing down highlight-reel dunks.

But even during his stellar moments for CSKA, Monya displayed little of the aggressive offense he has shown with the Russian national team.

At the 2003 European Championships in Sweden, Monya was second only to Utah Jazz star Andrei Kirilenko in points and minutes, averaging 11.6 points in 28 minutes per game.

"I had more freedom to create offensively under [former national team coach Sergei] Yelevich," Monya said.

Ironically, toward the end of last season, the Trail Blazers decided to bench their veteran players and give considerable minutes to their young players, including highly touted point guard Sebastian Telfair and Monya's good friend and national team cohort Viktor Khryapa, who joined Portland from CSKA after the 2004 season.

"I think I might have been able to play as many minutes in the NBA as I did for CSKA," Monya said.

Standing 202 centimeters tall and with a muscular, 100-kilogram frame, Monya has a smooth shooting stroke and springy legs, allowing him to hurt opponents from the perimeter as well as under the basket.

In an interview at the Euroleague Final Four last month, Portland general manager John Nash said he sees Monya fitting in well with the Blazers.

"He'll probably play the number three position," Nash said. "He's got good size for a swing player. We see him playing both small forward and possibly some two-guard. His perimeter shooting is good, but with his size he can rebound very well for a player at that position."

Nash said Portland had been following Monya's play over the course of the season and that he wasn't overly concerned about his lack of minutes.

"We recognize that many of the young players in Europe don't play the minutes that we would like to see them play," Nash said. "We felt that he had a really good year. We're looking forward to him joining us next season."

In the meantime, Monya said he is working on his game and preparing for the national team's upcoming appearance in the European Championships, set to be held in Serbia and Montenegro in September.

With Khryapa and Kirilenko, Monya believes the team can make waves in the tournament after a disappointing eighth-place finish in Sweden in 2003.

"I think we have the talent to go far," he said.

Monya said he expected to be in great shape for the NBA season following the European Championships and hoped he could contribute immediately in Portland.

"I'm not expecting to go out and play 30 minutes and score 20 points per game next year," he said. "In the beginning I just want to integrate with team and make sure they can count on me when I'm on the floor."