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It was the first quarter of the FIBA U-19 World Championships quarter-final between Russia and USA when Dmitry Kulagin finally made NBA scouts sit up and take a big notice of him.
Coming into the play-offs, the tournament had been nothing but a major disappointment for the youngster. Not able to deliver his leadership skills Kulagin saw his playing time limited and has burst into tears at the press-conference following his team’s loss to Argentina in the second group stage. At that point the guard thought the medal race was over for Russia and he personally won’t be able to impress the scouts.
But things went his side’s way on the final day of the qualifying round and Kulagin received a chance to shine against the athletic U.S. team, which he capitalized on in style. Scoring 14 points and adding 5 rebounds in the opening quarter, the Muscovite gave his team a sign about its ability to compete NCAA champion Jeremy Lamb and company. Kulagin would eventually lead the Russian youngsters to the bronze medals, averaging 24 points and almost 8 boards in the knock-out stage.
Just like a year ago at the U-18 European championships, Kulagin was included in the All Star Five of the event in Latvia. He’s made a few fans fall in love both with his scoring and facilitating abilities.
With his very quick first step Dmitry loves to drive to the rim and can finish in contact on occasions, although his strength is something to be developed. But his great basketball IQ allows him to find other options once at the rim. He’s also dangerous from the perimeter and likes to create his own shot in isolation. The latter is something to say about his playing behavior, as Kulagin is always eager and willing to take a decisive shot, even when playing on a professional club level last season at BC Nizhny Novgorod. His is confident in himself and gets upset when the last combination isn’t drawn for him.
The 19-year-old is usually played at the shooting guard position, but the passing skills may draw even bigger attention to him. Kulagin is very creative on the court, making his assists look both easy and impressive. But tricky passes is something he uses too often sometimes, although turnovers isn’t his big disadvantage.
Defensively Kulagin has improved significantly during the past year and feels confident when up against top SGs in the Russian Professional Basketball League. However, standing at 1.95 he lacks speed guarding extremely quick PGs like CSKA’s J.R. Holden.
But with all the talents he obtains, off-court behavior is currently the biggest issue for the gifted Russian. He was released by Nizhny Novgorod right before last season’s play-offs. The club’s GM Sergey Panov commented: “Kulagin was unable to take responsibilities; he reached success in attending parties, but not at work.”
Kulagin has signed a deal with BC Triumph Moscow Region for the 2011/2012 season, where he will partner his friend and national teammate Sergey Karasev and can expect at least 25-30 playing minutes. And his ability to focus on the game during the upcoming season will be vital, if Dmitry Kulagin is to develop himself into an NBA player.
-The author writes a blog in www.sports.ru. His twitter is @selloutxboy