To many VCU fans, Evgeny Kisurin’s time at the university was merely a one-year tease before he disappeared out of their collective conscience. Few may even know how close he came to being a part of Olympic history.
Kisurin, more commonly known to Ram fans as Eugene Kissourine, played basketball for VCU during the 1992-93 season and went on to become a member of Russia’s 2000 Sydney Olympic squad, a team that flirted with a stunning upset.
Eight years removed from the “Dream Team” in Barcelona, the talent gap between the Americans and the rest of the world was closing. In the quarterfinals, Russia pounced on a USA team that included Vince Carter, Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton. In a physical, contentious matchup, the Russians stormed to a 10-point lead and led by five at the half. It was the Americans’ smallest lead at intermission since 1988.
It was a clear wake-up call for the U.S., which rallied in the second half to win 85-75. The United States went on to win gold, while the Russians eventually lost to Canada – and former VCU guard Sherman Hamilton – in consolation play and finished eighth.
It’s been 12 years, but that loss to the Americans still tugs at Kisurin a bit.
“Team USA came back and beat us, but not without a fight,” the 43-year-old Kisurin said recently.
Kisurin says the Russians arrived at the Olympics that year with medal expectations, and who could blame them? Russia won silver at both the 1994 and 1998 World Championships.
“We were counting [on getting to] the medals, any kind of medals would’ve been fine,” Kisurin said.
By the time the Russians reached Sydney, Kisurin was 31 and had seen his playing time cut dramatically. Although he averaged 10.8 points and 5.8 rebounds at the 1994 Worlds and 5.8 points and 4.1 rebounds in 1998, Kisurin only appeared in one game for Russia in 2000, scoring three points in a win over Angola in group play.
Although he didn’t see the floor much, it didn’t detract from Kisurin’s Olympic experience.
“The most memorable thing in the 2000 Olympics was the atmosphere of the celebration,” Kisurin said. “Of course the Olympic village was very special because that place had all the sports celebrities and everyone lived together, ate together. I was surprised that some of the athletes would know me by name and would shake hands with me.”
A COLLEGE TRY
Already a veteran of Russia’s National Team program, Kisurin came to VCU in 1992 from St. Petersburg’s Lesgaft Institute. Then-Athletic Director Dr. Richard Sander and a VCU delegation had visited St. Petersburg in 1990 and formed strong bonds with Lesgaft, a relationship that would eventually produce a number of Russian imports.
Kisurin decided to follow in the footsteps of Konstantin Pepeliaev, who transferred to VCU in 1990. While Pepeliaev, a 7-foot-2 center, never became more than a bit player for the Rams, Kisurin showed great promise. A 6-foot-9 power forward, Kisurin had a smooth shooting stroke, range out to 20 feet and could defend all three frontline positions.
He averaged 6.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and blocked 21 shots for a 20-10 squad that reached the Metro Conference Championship Game and the NIT, where it lost to Old Dominion in the first round. Kisurin started 23 of 30 games and the team showed flashes of brilliance, crushing then-No. 1 Long Beach State 95-61 at the Richmond Coliseum on Jan. 23, 1993.
There appeared to be bright days ahead. Kisurin had two years of eligibility remaining, Kendrick Warren and Kenny Harris were juniors and Tyron McCoy a sophomore.
But Kisurin had more to worry about than basketball. When he arrived at VCU, he was already 24 years old with a wife, Virineya, and an 18-month-old son, Vitaly. Kisurin’s class and practice schedule made it difficult to work and make ends meet. That summer, he accepted an offer from an Italian club and turned pro.
ALWAYS A RAM
Although he only logged 30 games as a Ram, Kisurin has maintained a strong association with VCU.
Around the time his professional career, which included stops in Italy, France and multiple outposts in Russia was winding down, Kisurin was invited by Sander to participate in the Villa 7 Coaches Consortium. Kisurin retired as a player in 2006 and quickly transitioned to coaching a women’s team in Spartak, Russia.
Kisurin was also pivotal in bringing Kirill Pishchalnikov, who went on to a productive three-year career with the Rams from 2007-10, to VCU. Kisurin alerted VCU officials of Pishchalnikov’s interest in playing in the United States and helped the 6-foot-8 forward prepare for life abroad.
These days, Kisurin is an assistant coach for Russia’s U-18 men’s team, as well as the head coach of Spartak-2, which is comprised of players 18-21 years old. He also occasionally serves as a color commentator for Spartak’s upper division squad.
Off the floor, Evgeny and Virineya celebrated their 22nd wedding anniversary this year. Meanwhile, son Vitaly, 21, recently graduated from VCU with a degree in chemistry. Kisurin says his son plans to return to pursue his Ph.D.
So, while his VCU career never amounted to more than a one-year fascination, Kisurin acknowledges that the school has and continues to have a profound impact on him.
“I would like to thank [former VCU President] Eugene Trani and Sonny Smith for [being] a big, significant part of my life,” he said.