Former Kansas University basketball center Sasha Kaun — who has made over $1 million a season playing for Russian Superleague Club CSKA Moscow the past three years — is in no hurry to switch to the NBA.
“I think every player that plays the game wants to be in the NBA and over here,” the 6-foot-11, 250-pound Kaun said Thursday in an interview in Allen Fieldhouse. “But the biggest thing and the most scary part is if you don’t play. There you know you are one of the better players and always play.
“As long as I’m having fun and getting good pay out of it ... European basketball is growing a lot. A lot of good players come there and play. Whatever I’ve done so far ... I’ve been pretty blessed. Continuing on would be fine for me.”
Kaun — he has one year left on his deal in his homeland of Russia — remains the property of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, who acquired his draft rights from Seattle in the 2008 NBA Draft.
There’s a buyout in Kaun’s contract that would enable Cleveland to sign him when the current lockout is lifted and a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.
“There are a lot of different factors. It’s all great as long as you can make money and support your family,” Kaun said.
He’s married to former KU soccer player Taylor Blue of Olathe.
“I think she is adjusting to it,” Tomsk native Kaun said of residing in Russia. “She misses a lot of American-style living. It’s tough at times. I think she likes our schedule better than she would in the NBA. I’m not traveling as much as those guys do. Our road trips are like college — leave the night before and come back after the game. It’s easier on her. She doesn’t have to be at home two weeks by herself.”
Kaun, who averaged 7.6 points and 4.0 rebounds a game in limited duty last season because of a knee injury that required surgery, exploded on the international scene last summer. He averaged 10.4 points and 6.3 boards for Russia at the World Championships.
He will join Russia’s national team later this month with hopes of leading his country to a first-place finish at the European championships and automatic qualifying spot in the 2012 London Olympics.
“I think it would be a cool experience to be in the Olympics,” Kaun said. “If we don’t get first place we have to go to qualifications next year. We’re not in automatically. We’ve got some good players on the team.”
Kaun — he’s been back in the U.S. for about a week — plans on joining the current Jayhawks in pick-up basketball games. He’s already been lifting weights under the supervision of KU assistant AD/sports performance Andrea Hudy.
“You want to rest a little bit, especially with our season so long — going from early September to the end of June,” Kaun said. “Playing on the national team makes it a little bit tougher. I’ll see what their schedules are. It’s always good to play with the guys here.”
Kaun — he played at KU from 2004-08 — still follows the Jayhawks closely. He was able to attend several games last winter as he rehabbed from patella surgery back in the U.S.
“It was the first time since I left KU I got to come back and go to games. Watching them early in the season and seeing where they were at the end of the season, I definitely think they grew as a team a lot,” Kaun said of the 35-3 Jayhawks. “I don’t think a lot of people expected us to be as good as those guys were at the end of the season. Who would have expected they would be a No. 1 seed? It was an amazing journey they went through. It shows the guys care. They want to get better, be coached and win.”
Kaun said he was saddened Big 12 regular-season and postseason champ KU fell to VCU in the Elite Eight.
“They had a bad game at the wrong time, if you think about it,” Kaun said. “It just happens. It’s the beauty of the NCAA Tournament. It’s not an NBA series. If you put those two teams in a series, we’d beat them nine out of 10 times probably, but the one time they had a bad game and unfortunately had to go home.”
Kaun, who helped KU to the 2008 national title, was asked to offer advice to future Jayhawk players.
“Definitely to have fun,” he said. “I watched the special on UCLA and (coach) John Wooden. He had this thing ... the guy never talked about winning or losing. It wasn’t his agenda with the team. As long as the team takes care of what needs to be taken care of, that’s the most important thing. The wins and losses come. Coach (Bill Self) has the same kind of mentality. Everybody knows we need to win. The most important thing is do what it takes to win, do the right things.”
Kaun, 26, plans on “having fun” on the court a long time.
“Especially now that it has become my lifestyle, making money and playing professionally, it brings a lot of joy to me,” he said of basketball. “Of all the sports, I like to watch basketball, play basketball. Definitely sometimes it’s tough with injuries and being hurt. Sometimes it gets you down, but besides that it’s lots of fun and making money at the same time.”