Tired and cramped after sitting on three airplanes for a total of 16 hours, Sasha Kaun felt rejuvenated after catching a glimpse of his mother eagerly awaiting his arrival June 16 at Tomsk Airport in western Siberia.
'''I can't believe that I'm home,'" was the first thought to enter the Kansas University junior basketball player's mind as he made his way toward Olga Kaun.
The 6-foot-11, 245-pounder had waited 31â2 years to visit his mother, half-sister, brother-in-law and two nieces, as well as cousins, aunts, uncles and many childhood friends who still live in his native Russia.
"It's one of those things you don't expect anymore after having been away so long - having a chance to be back," Kaun said.
He was speaking Thursday afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse just hours after returning from a nearly two-month homecoming.
"Maybe it will give me a little release, kind of a mental happiness in terms of seeing people and knowing everything is fine at home," Kaun said emphatically.
"It will just give me a little more motivation."
He wasn't able to work out much in Russia - "the gymnasiums are closed this time of year for whatever reason, and it is very expensive (to use private facilities), but I was able to do some things with a basketball and work out half the time," he said. He was able to stay in good physical condition with the help of Olga.
"No fast food. It was awesome," Kaun said. "That's how we live in Russia. It's easier to cook - healthier and tastier," he added, referring to Olga's "soups, different potatoes, meat and some fish."
Kaun, who attended one year of high school in Russia and three in Melbourne, Fla., said one interesting aspect of his trip was he spoke all Russian - except on cell phone calls to KU's coaches and his girlfriend back in the U.S.
"It was a good two months for me to renew my knowledge. I actually started to lose my Russian accent," Kaun said. "Now I speak both languages with an accent so I don't even know what my real language is I guess."
He said all the physical changes to his hometown of Tomsk were for the better.
"A couple years ago we had a full (400) year anniversary of the city," he said. "We've built water fountains, a lot of statues. Older buildings were remodeled and rebuilt. It's made it look so beautiful. I really missed the city, walking around the city."
Kaun's trip home wasn't just about rekindling memories. He successfully took care of some business - renewing his passport and acquiring a visa. He also learned first-hand his fears of having to join the Russian Army were groundless.
"It was a concern," he said, "(but) my mom did some research. She was told as long as I have valid proof I'm in school we can take care of it. I took a paper from the university, my department, my (academic) transcript and I translated it and got it notarized and stuff," Kaun said. "Basically it was proof I'm in school."
His obtaining his visa for entry to the U.S. proved a minor hassle.
Kaun headed from Tomsk to Moscow on July 19 and wasn't able to leave until Tuesday.
Luckily, he has friends in Moscow who provided him a place to stay.
"I was just waiting on the visa," he said. "So many people are traveling to the U.S. now. There are so many applicants. It was a little stressful. I was trying to get back as quickly as possible. I'd try to tell the people, 'Could you please do it a little quicker because I need to get back.'''
He now has plenty of time to resume a regimen of weightlifting and individual workouts in preparation for the start of the preseason Oct. 13.
"Coach said, 'It's really nice to have you back,''' Kaun said of head coach Bill Self. "Then he gave me instructions on what I have to be doing in basketball and weights."
Kaun was especially in a good mood Thursday after not only chatting with his coach, but satisfying a lunchtime craving at Back Yard Burgers.
"I had to go get myself a little burger for lunch," he said. "I'm happy to be back and now I know if I want to go back (to Russia) next summer or whenever, I can. I don't have to worry about the Army or passport (anymore)."
¢ NBA not on his mind: Kaun, when asked the obligatory "NBA question" Thursday, said he hoped to return for his senior season.
"Deep inside of me I do want to stay here," he said. "Knowing the Senior Night experience ... I wish I could have my mom here in the stands and me standing in the middle of the court. That's something you can do only once in life. Only certain people can do it. It's one of those experiences you can't compare.
"If there's a reasonable chance for me to go (to NBA), it's just kind of what you have to do, but deep inside I want to stay. I don't know how things will go. I'm not planning on it (leaving). I definitely want to stay."
¢ Simien honored: Former Kansas University forward Wayne Simien of the Miami Heat threw out the first ball at the Kansas City Royals-Boston Red Sox game Thursday night at Kauffman Stadium. He drew both cheers from KU fans and some boos from Missouri fans.