by Kent Sterling
Of all the places in all the world for the World University Games to be held, they chose an outpost 1,100 miles due east of Moscow. Kazan is a weird town that offers few of the distractions that any of the hundreds of better known cities in Europe that might have been chosen instead.
That doesn’t diminish the honor of being selected to play for their country for Indiana University basketball players Will Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell, nor will it make the experience of playing alongside some of the rest of college basketball’s best any less special.
There isn’t a hell of a lot to do in Kazan, but in the interest of helping Sheehey and Ferrell kill their idle time without relying on Russian TV, which is not English friendly, here’s a short primer on the eighth most populated city in Russia and some of the high points tourists seem to enjoy:
- Kazan is the “Sports Capital of Russia”, and will host the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It has a population of 1,143,535, and celebrated it’s 1,000th anniversary in 2005. Add 800 years to Indianapolis’ history, and the two cities sound similar.
- Very little has happened in Kazan over the years – occasional wanton destruction, formerly conquering Mongol hordes being conquered, and the Tatars live peacefully among the Russians. I know nothing of tatars other than their being delicious when served as tots with a little ketchup – although they are usually spelled “Taters”.
- There is a Kremlin in Kazan and they have tours, but are conducted only in Russian.
- Ahh, the Leaning Suyumbike Tower is a must-see, evidently. The story of the building is that Ivan the Terrible wanted to marry the beautiful Suyumbike, who refused. Ivan took the refusal in ill-temper and ordered his army to invade Kazan. Suyumbike hung an attitudinal u-turn and then agreed to wed before her city was overrun. She had one condition – that a tower be built within one week that would be taller than all other buildings in Kazan. Ivan’s boys got the job done in six days. Before the ceremony, Suyumbike climbed to the top of the tower and jumped to her death. Sounds a little like “The Princess Bride.” Good story. Evidently, the hurried construction provided a faulty foundation – as the structure leans – as you might have guessed.
- For nightlife, the Manhattan Club and Joker Bar seems like the spots. Good food, bowling, and fun for the whole family, but I’ve seen enough movies about trips to the interior of Russia that have gone horribly wrong that I would probably choose to stay in the hotel. As much as we might want for the team to enjoy this experience, it won’t mean much if they are abducted and sold into slavery or the Russian Army – both seem to happen in all movies set in central Russia. Ride a train, meet a pleasant stranger, get drugged, serve in the Russian Army. Seems to happen a lot.
- Lot of churches and mosques to see for people who don’t get enough of American churches.
The time difference in Kazan is eight hours. Practices continue through Saturday, with games starting on Sunday and continuing through July 16. The Americans have fared quite well historically in the tournament. In the 20 tournaments in which Team USA has competed, the Americans have won 19 medals, including 13 golds, and have posted a 138-9 overall record.
The team was chosen by the 2013-16 USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team Committee. Chaired byJim Boeheim (Syracuse University), the committee includes NCAA appointees McKillop, Matt Painter (Purdue University) and Lorenzo Romar (University of Washington), as well as athlete representative Curtis Sumpter, a member of the 2011 USA Pan American Games Team and the 2004 USA U20 National Team. Nice that Painter didn’t stomp his feet and campaign against two IU players who are going to do nothing but get better as a result of this experience.
The full roster is: Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado/Woodland Hills, Calif.); Yogi Ferrell (Indiana/Indianapolis, Ind.); Treveon Graham (Virginia Commonwealth/Temple Hills, Md.); Luke Hancock (Louisville/ Roanoke, Va.); Tyler Haws (BYU/Alpine, Utah); Cory Jefferson (Baylor/ Killeen, Texas); Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati/Yonkers, N.Y.); Alex Kirk (New Mexico/Los Alamos, N.M.); Doug McDermott (Creighton/Ames, Iowa); Adreian Payne (Michigan State/Dayton, Ohio); Will Sheehey (Indiana/Stuart, Fla.); and Aaron White (Iowa/Strongsville, Ohio).