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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blatt Aims to Banish Ghosts of the Past

APRussia forward Andrei Kirilenko, top, leaping for a rebound as Mario Kasun of Croatia shoots Tuesday in Madrid.
MADRID -- Coach David Blatt has Russia remembering what it feels like to win again.

Russia breezed into the quarterfinals of the European Basketball Championship with an 83-70 win over Croatia Tuesday, stretching its overall record to 5-1 at the tournament, its sole loss coming at the hands of world champion and favorite Spain.

The American-Israeli coach's discipline, on and off the court, is a big reason for the current run.

"What I've tried to instill in this team is that this is not the team of the past and that we're not going to look to the ghosts of the past," Blatt said. "We're in the present, and we have to focus on what's in the future of this tournament."

A former player at Princeton University, halfway between New York City and Philadelphia, Blatt is utilizing the tactics -- pressure defense, passing and patience -- taught by former Tigers coach Pete Carril to help turn around a program that hasn't registered any kind of success on the international stage in nearly a decade.

The former point guard's "no-nonsense" attitude -- just like Carril's -- has transformed the way Russia thinks and plays.

"First thing I had to overcome was a little bit of egotism and a little bit of quit -- guys whose egos were too big and the willing to give in was weak," he said.

Before signing on with Russia for the European Championship, Blatt, 48, guided Dynamo St. Petersburg to the EuroCup trophy in 2004 and Benetton of Treviso to the Italian league title a year later.

In the last four European Championships, the Russians have qualified for the quarterfinals and gone no further, an experience that seems more painful in light of 14 gold medals won by the Soviet team from 1947 to 1985. "We need to break from the past," star forward Andrei Kirilenko said after Tuesday's win.

Victor Fraile / Reuters
Blatt shouting instructions to players during Tuesday's game against Croatia.

Significantly, Russia was knocked out by France in 2003, and will face its old rival, led by San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker, on Thursday.

"Tony is so physically talented and he knows how to use it. And since he's gone to the NBA, he's gotten smarter," Blatt said. "Best to limit him some and not let him help his teammates."

Consistency is what Blatt brings, and it's a quality Kirilenko has been emulating in the way he plays.

The Utah Jazz forward leads the team with 18.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, also has a strong supporting cast to work with, from Chicago Bulls forward Viktor Khryapa to Nikita Morgunov, who was a member of Russia's silver medal-winning team at the 1998 World Championship.

And just like his coach, Kirilenko isn't looking beyond his own performance.

"I'm not worried about the French team -- only about us," he said. "If we play our game, we'll be good."