U18 CSKA Moscow is the record three-time champion of the ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT. But the Russian powerhouse is back at the ANGT Finals for the first time since 2007 thanks in large part to an ex-swimmer with a good connection to Alexey Shved.
Alexander Khomenko collected 14.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 3.3 steals as CSKA finished third at the ANGT Qualifying Tournament Kaunas.
CSKA, which won three straight continental titles from 2004 to 2006, was then awarded a wild card for the ANG Finals, taking place May 18 to 21 at the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four in Istanbul.
"Ten years is a long time. It means a lot for our club and we are happy that we got a wild card," said Khomenko, who was playing in his second ANGT tournament after having averaged 4.0 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists at ANGT Rome in 2015-16.
"We are looking forward to the unique opportunity to fight for the win in Istanbul. It will be hard but it's a great experience for all of us."
Khomenko and CSKA are drawn into Group A along with U18 Crvena Zvevda MTS Belgrade, reigning champions U18 FC Barcelona Lassa and U18 CFBB Paris. The 1.90-meter guard is hoping to double down on his experience and watch the CSKA senior team, if they reach the Final Four.
"I hope we will manage to watch the games of Final Four where I hope CSKA will participate. I know that we will have our own schedule and no time to walk around and relax, but to support our main team is important," he said.
Basketball used to mean a lot less to Khomenko, who actually grew up swimming and participating four years in the water.
Khomenko did not start to play basketball until the first grade in Belgorod.
One of the big basketball names in Belgorod is Alexey Shved, whose father Victor Shved was Khomenko's first coach.
"Victor Shved's wife came to our school to look for newcomers for the basketball school. So she invited me to come and to try playing basketball. Frankly speaking, I didn't want to go there at first. But my mother insisted. She said, 'You should try it, maybe you will like it.' And I did."
And after his four years of swimming it was time to move onto basketball.
"I tried to combine it with basketball but then it was necessary to choose one. I chose basketball," Khomenko said.
Khomenko and Shved were able to build up a pretty strong bond.
"Alexey visits Belgorod every summer. And his father always set Alexey as an example, showing us his early games in CSKA," Khomenko said.
About the relationship with the former EuroLeague champion and current Khimki star, Khomenko added: "We communicate in Belgorod, where Alexey comes to practice and I have vacations in summer. Me and some other local players practice with him. We help each other to progress.
"Last time, Alexey showed me his drills, gave some advice to try some things on the court. It was also interesting to listen to his stories about the NBA."
Khomenko has grown into one of the leaders of the CSKA team along with Aleksandr Ershov and Yury Umrikhin.
"We always do a lot of work on the court, but as a team we are always together. We help each other all the time. If one player makes mistakes or his shots fall out, then the other one is ready to support him," Khomenko said.
When asked what CSKA must do to be successful in the ANGT Finals, Khomenko added: "We need to play really good on defense, do not worry about our opponents and be ourselves. 'One for all, all for one' - just like with the senior team."