Sasha Kaun, one of only two Kansas University basketball players, along with Hall of Famer Clyde Lovellette, to win an NCAA title (2008), NBA title (2016) and medal in the Olympic Games (2012 bronze), has decided to retire from pro ball at the age of 31.
The 6-foot-11 Tomsk, Russia, native’s decision comes after a season in which he played in 25 games for the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Recently he was traded from Cleveland to Philadelphia, a team that immediately released him.
Obviously if the former CSKA Moscow forward wanted to continue, there was a place for him either overseas or with another NBA squad.
“I was very blessed and fortunate to play as long as I have. I had a great experience for the (Russian) national team and professionally. Overall, it’s been phenomenal,” Kaun said Saturday in a phone conversation with the Journal-World from Colorado, where he lives with wife, Taylor, daughter Nika (3) and son Maks (9 months old).
“I want to say thank you to all the fans who have cheered for me in the years I was at KU and followed my career afterward as a professional. I’m happy to be a Jayhawk and look forward to seeing everybody once I’m back at the games (as fan). I’m just excited to be part of the (KU) family.”
Kaun said he started thinking seriously about retirement “toward the end of the season. I kind of feel my ankle has been bothering me awhile. With the amount of pain I was going through, I just wanted to be done. It’s something I’ve had all my career,” he added of right ankle problems. “It was definitely getting worse and worse, year by year. Especially coming here (one year in NBA after seven seasons in Moscow) ... the intensity of the game I just kind of realized I don’t think I can go and do it any more.
“I said, ‘You know what? I’m not going to be happy playing. I’m not going to be happy not playing. I think it’s a good time to call it quits.’’’
During the Cavaliers’ post-NBA Finals pep rally, Series MVP LeBron James praised and thanked Kaun for his contributions mostly at practice. As far as on-court action, Kaun averaged 3.5 minutes per game in 25 regular-season games. He was with the team, but didn’t play in the postseason.
“I feel good to be part of that team, obviously,” Kaun said. “Unfortunately my role was very limited and small. Still to be wanted by a team like this and to be part of it has been a phenomenal experience.”
The title, of course, put him in select company.
“I was just talking to my father-in-law the other day. He was like, ‘How many players have won a national title, Olympic medal and world (NBA) championship?’ It’s fun to be part of that group,” Kaun said of players such as Lovellette, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Jerry Lucas, KC Jones and Quinn Buckner.
Kaun — he said his family will remain in the Denver area — indicated he has no plans to enter coaching.
“If I do want to do something in terms of staying in basketball maybe I’ll look into doing some personal training stuff, whether it be having some clients around here or looking for an opportunity to maybe work with kids from overseas or younger athletes here,” Kaun said. “Maybe training them and doing some 1-on-1 stuff especially in the summer. I’m open to it and think that’s what I want to do.”
Kaun is planning on returning to KU regularly during the winter months.
“With my wife from Kansas … to come back and see them (relatives) and go to some games,” Kaun said. “I’ve not been to a game since 2010. There will be the opportunity to hopefully go to some this coming year. We’ll have the opportunity to go on some road trips. That will be nice.”
Kaun obviously is beloved at KU, most notably for his role in a 2008 Elite Eight game against Davidson in which his 13 points, six rebounds and one block helped KU survive a pesky Stephon Curry-led squad, 59-57, for a spot in the Final Four in which KU beat North Carolina and Memphis for the ’08 title.
Pictures of Kaun captured in games that postseason show one, intense basketball player.
“Definitely yes. I really hope so,” Kaun said, asked if fans consider him one of the most competitive players in KU history. “I think that’s something that kind of kept me going through the years and made me who I am. It’s kind of fun. My wife (former KU soccer player) is very competitive too. In our household it’s always fun, we always try to do our best in whatever we’re doing. I think it’s a good quality to have.”
Svi goes for 20: KU junior guard Svi Mykhailiuk scored 20 points off 9-of-17 shooting (1-3 threes) with four rebounds, four assists, five turnovers and two steals in Ukraine’s 84-62 loss to Latvia in a consolation game at the FIBA Under 20 championships in Finland.