Yep, that was former Kansas center Sasha Kaun making his Olympics debut on Sunday for the Russian national team. The same Kaun that spent four seasons at KU and helped the Jayhawks to the 2008 national championship as a reserve center.
That was Kaun, starting and finishing with five points in 19 minutes as Russia dismantled host Great Britain (and former Duke star Luol Deng) 95-75 in London. That was Kaun playing alongside NBA standout Andrei Kirilenko, who shredded the Brits for 35 points.
In the process, Kaun became the first basketball player from KU to play in the Olympics since Danny Manning in 1988. That ’88 team, of course, came up short, claiming the bronze medal — a finish that prompted the use of professional players and the creation of the Dream Team in 1992.
But 24 years later, Kaun’s appearance only adds to a long list of Olympians with connections to the state of Kansas. Former KU star JoJo White won a gold medal in 1968; former Jayhawk Al Kelley did the same in 1960; and in 1952, All-American Clyde Lovelette led a collection of players from the 1952 NCAA title team to the Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, where they paired up with a group of AAU players from Peoria, Ill. They won gold, too.
And then, of course, there’s the story of the original 1936 U.S. Olympic basketball team, which was led by a collection of AAU players from McPherson, Kan.
Now Kaun is added to the list. A second-round pick of Cleveland in 2008, Kaun eschewed a potential NBA career for a lucrative opportunity with European power CSKA Moscow in his native country.
It’s worked out pretty good so far. Two of his points on Sunday came on a ridiculous between-the-legs assist from Russian guard Alexey Shved, a former teammate of Kaun’s on CSKA Moscow who signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier this summer.
Russia will continue its quest for a medal with games against China on Tuesday and Brazil on Thursday before concluding group with matchups against Spain on Saturday and Australia on Monday, Aug. 6.