Mescheriakov, 35, would like to shine a spotlight on the next generation of basketball talent in Belarus. His growing concern about the declining state of Belarusan basketball spurred him to co-found the Mescheriakov Basketball Club in Minsk, a private program for about 120 boys ages 11 to 15. But unlike the Soviet-style academy of years past that focused solely on creating the next great athlete, MBC also offers training in life skills and academics. The boys are taught leadership skills, responsibility and how to live a healthy lifestyle. Mescheriakov also started a bonus system that rewards boys who do well in these areas and academically with prizes.
“I wanted it to provide the same opportunities that were presented to me,” Mescheriakov said. “I would feel guilty if I wouldn’t start a school like this because somewhere along my road I was presented with opportunities. For whatever reason, I was a chosen one.
“So I have this little burden on my shoulders — responsibility, I guess. It’s a very nice burden, but it’s also a responsibility to give back and make sure you’re remembered not only for your athletic achievements. Because at the end of the day, who cares really” about what someone does athletically?
‘Kind of neglected’
Belarus, an Eastern European country roughly the size of Kansas, gained its independence in 1991 after seven decades as a Soviet republic. Though it is surrounded by countries whose basketball teams are ranked among the top 50 in the world by FIBA — Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Poland and Ukraine — Belarus has not been a factor recently in European competition.
That was not always the case. In 1994, Koul, Mescheriakov and Andrei Krivinos, their former GW teammate and current coach of Minsk-2006 Basketball Club, helped Belarus win FIBA’s under-22 European championship, the country’s only European title.
“State of Belarusan basketball is very sorrowful,” Koul wrote in an e-mail from Belarus, where he works as economic development and sports marketing director for Minsk-2006 Basketball Club.
“In our country, we have one favored sport — ice hockey. Besides being one of the most expensive sports, it’s also probably the biggest investment program [by the government] in sport. . . . As a result, for this season, 2011-12, we barely gathered eight teams to play in Belarusan championship.”