Evgeny Baukin was only six when he started playing basketball in his native Russia.
His dad is a basketball academy coach who played at the university level, so it was only natural his son would gravitate to the sport.
For 12 years, more than two-thirds of his life, he’s been taking aim at hoops and finding a feel for the game that’s put him in the conversation as a potential candidate for the Russian under-18 national team. At six-foot-six, the growth of Baukin’s body has kept pace with his increasing ability to razzle and dazzle with a basketball in his hands.
So you can understand why Jordan Yu and the Duchess Park Condors senior boys basketball team were jumping for joy the day he landed in Prince George on a flight from Moscow this past summer. Big, strong, fast and unpredictable, the Grade 12 international student has the potential to be one of the most exciting young basketball players to ever strut his stuff in a local high school gym.
He demonstrated that Friday in the Condor Classic boys division final at Duchess Park not long into their game against the Cedars Christian Eagles. Already cruising with a 13-4 lead, Condor guard Adam Sieben spotted Baukin in open territory and threaded a long pass he finished with a thundering dunk.
The Eagles closed the gap to five by the end of the first quarter with Tony Kibonge and Mitch Crosina hitting their shots, but Duchess Park finished the half with a 12-point unanswered flurry powered by Baukin’s spin moves under the net and some timely shooting from Grade 12 veterans Aiden Lewis and Cole Laing. The homecourt Condors took a 47-26 lead into the intermission and never looked back, winning 92-61.
“I’s so happy we won today,” said Baukin, who has obviously benefited from his time spent in Russia working with an English tutor. “We made a lot of passes for easy points, no hard shots. We have a press all game and we had a lot of steals, it caused problems for this team and they had turnovers.”
Baukin is billeted with Sergey Shchepotkin, the UNBC Timberwolves women’s team head coach, and Baukin plans to finish his Grade 12 studies at Duchess and return to Prince George to play for UNBC next season. He played for a club team season in Moscow in a league that plays for city and national championships.
“This basketball (in B.C.) is faster and you have to have a more IQ to play faster,” Baukin said. “They have better shooting here and they are more aggressive than in Russia.”
So far he’s had little trouble adapting to his new surroundings.
“I like the people in Canada, they are so kind and so positive,” he said. “ I have a lot of friends, a lot of guys who maybe don’t like basketball but they’re coming (to the games). I like walking and this city is so beautiful and there’s no traffic like in Moscow, where it’s so big. There are not a lot of cars and I like that.”
Condors head coach Jordan Yu says Baukin gives the team a combination of size and skill they didn’t have last season when they won their second-straight silver medal at the triple-A provincial championship.
“To have a six-foot-six player that can push the ball in transition and see the play before it even happens and make the right read every time, it’s pretty unbelievable,” said Yu. “He’s a nice guy to fall in your lap before the season starts.
“We’re running different sets we’ve never run before, different reads we make with a post that flashes to high post and just makes perfect passes on point. There’s just so many wrinkles we’re running with him involved and it’s just opened up the game for everyone else.”
Laing led the Condors with 20 points, Baukin picked up 17 and Sieben sunk 15. Tony Kibonge shot a game-high 22 for Cedars and Crosina also reached double figures with 13.
The Duchess Park parking lot was overflowing and cars lined the street with fans clamouring for seats for the girls and boys finals.
“The energy is just really great from the stands and everybody’s riled up, it gets the players going, to play harder,” Laing said. “Our guys moved the ball around nicely, we just played a good team game with good overall team defence and we got the win. We’re really fortunate to have (Baukin) on the team, same with the provincial MVP (volleyball) setter, Chris Zimmerman, we’ve got some size, got some length, it’s nice.”
The No. 3-ranked Condors are off to a solid start to the season after going 2-2 at the Howard Tsumura Invitational in Langley a week ago, in which they took on some of the cream of the crop in the provincial quad-A and triple-A ranks.
The Eagles did not have that same luxury. Half the basketball team was in Nanaimo playing volleyball at the time, where they earned a bronze medal at the single-A provincial championship. They had only a few basketball practices leading up to the Condor Classic.
“They’ve practiced a lot already and this is kind of the start to our season, we started late,” said Kibonge. “I think we played pretty good, it’s just at the start we let them have a big run with some rebounding, just some small errors and they got a run.
“But after that we went bucket-for-bucket. Once they got that lead it just kind of killed us. It was hard to get back, they’re a good team and we can’t let them get a lead like that.”
The Eagles are ranked No. 10 among single-A teams in B.C.
“I’m not sure what single-A has to offer but I’m pretty confident about our chances,” said Kibonge. “We’re a small school, so we all know each other well, no chemistry issues. We’re a smaller team but we can still compete with the bigger teams with our effort, our muscle and our ball-handling skill.”