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Editor’s note: Interviews for this communicative were conducted successful Russian and nan answers were translated into English.
Dmytro Skapintsev near location 22 months ago. He hasn’t been backmost since.
The location he hasn’t been capable to return to, successful Cherkasy, Ukraine, hasn’t been nan same. He near a fewer days earlier nan warfare began connected February 24, 2022, a day that was a turning constituent successful his life for illustration it is for truthful galore Ukrainians. There is what came earlier it and what has travel after.
On that day, nan Russian subject attacked awesome cities successful Ukraine, starting a conflict that still rages, displacing truthful galore and killing tens of thousands of people. The world changed that time successful Ukraine, and it did for Skapintsev, too. It put him connected an unexpected journey, 1 that took him from nan Ukrainian SuperLeague, nan country’s apical division, to nan NBA successful little than 2 years.
He debuted for nan Knicks past Saturday, aft signing a two-way contract, astatine a clip erstwhile nan Knicks needed size aft losing 2 centers successful a fewer weeks.
A 7-footer, Skapintsev is simply a large assemblage pinch a deft touch and has been successful their strategy for 2 seasons aft joining nan Westchester Knicks earlier nan 2022-23 season. His summation came upon quickly. Skapintsev had conscionable helped Westchester triumph nan G League Showcase nan nighttime earlier successful Orlando earlier nan Knicks decided to bring him successful aft an wounded to Jericho Sims. He signed his statement precocious Friday night, took an early greeting formation retired to New York connected Saturday and went consecutive from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Madison Square Garden.
His parents didn’t cognize he had made it to nan NBA until he snapped a image of his caller No. 14 jersey successful his caller locker earlier nan crippled and sent it to them successful Cherkasy. He wanted it to beryllium a surprise.
Skapintsev is conscionable nan 10th subordinate to beryllium calved successful Ukraine and make it to nan NBA. At specified a difficult clip for nan country, his occurrence is simply a trickle of bully news. He knows nan trouble those still location face. He thinks astir it each day.
“Everything is normal,” he says pinch a heavy sigh and a proclivity for understatement. “As bully arsenic it tin be.”
Ukraine remains nether siege. His mother and begetter are still successful his hometown, on pinch his grandfather. Skapintsev’s father, 59, cannot time off until adjacent twelvemonth because each antheral 60 and younger tin beryllium conscripted for nan warfare effort. His mother hasn’t left. His grandfather won’t leave; truthful his parents won’t spell either.
Skapintsev has not gone back. If he did, he mightiness beryllium taken into nan army, too. Instead, he has stayed abroad, trying to scope nan NBA and support playing. His teammates inquire what it’s for illustration successful Ukraine. He tells them and shows pictures. He thinks of those successful Ukraine now.
“Hard,” he said. “Every greeting you aftermath up and move connected nan news and watch really it is astatine home. I telephone my parents each day.”
The past clip Skapintsev was successful Ukraine was for training campy for nan Ukrainian nationalist squad successful precocious February 2022. The squad arrived successful Spain connected Feb. 22 for a World Cup qualifying game. Two days later, nan warfare began. The crippled was not postponed and nan Ukrainian squad played that day, but immoderate consciousness of normalcy was gone.
Skapintsev had been playing for a squad successful Kyiv, but he vanished retired that play successful Lithuania aft decamping to Latvia pursuing nan qualifier. He played for nan nationalist squad again astatine EuroBasket that summertime and nan Knicks noticed him during a crippled against Greece. Milwaukee Bucks prima Giannis Antetokounmpo mightiness person had 41 points, but Skapintsev caught nan attraction of a New York scout successful Milan during his clip connected nan court.
He joined Westchester past autumn done a section subordinate tryout exception. Skapintsev had been to nan U.S. earlier he spent a fewer months astatine Cal State University Northridge but ne'er played a game. That allowed him to debar nan G League draft.
Skapintsev continued progressing arsenic he played for nan Knicks’ Summer League squad past summer. When he arrived to nan Knicks this month, caput coach Tom Thibodeau was acquainted pinch his crippled aft watching practices successful Las Vegas.
“His size is terrific,” Thibodeau said. “He tin walk nan shot a small bit. Does a small spot of everything. Great communicator connected defense. So we deliberation he’ll beryllium a bully addition.”
Passing has ever been a accomplishment for Skapintsev. It’s portion of what made Maksym Mikhelson specified a chaste believer successful him. He first started coaching Skapintsev successful Cherkasy erstwhile Skapintsev was conscionable 12, and wherever Mikhelson is simply a salient amateur coach and an adjunct connected nan elder nationalist team.
Skapintsev was large and a bully passer, Mikhelson said, though not nan astir coordinated arsenic a young player. Still, Mikhelson told his teammates to perpetually watch retired for nan ball.
“He’s a constituent guard,” Mikhelson said successful describing a young Skapintsev pinch a laugh, “but he can’t dribble.”
Mikhelson saw talent and he believed successful it. He had coached Svi Mykhailiuk, too, earlier he made it to nan NBA. He started Skapintsev astatine 19 for his Ukrainian convention squad and put him connected nan younker nationalist team, playing him against older competition.
“He’s a very absorbing player,” Mikhelson said. “He mightiness not put up a batch of stats, but erstwhile you activity pinch him, you understand really overmuch he tin thief you win.”
When Skapintsev signed his two-way contract, Mikhelson felt vindicated. Skapintsev was excited. At times, he had doubted his way to nan NBA. After he had been incapable to play astatine Northridge owed to NCAA issues, he was worried astir his chance to get noticed by nan league. He signed an Exhibit-10 woody earlier this play but nan Knicks waived Skapintsev successful mid-September, which made him skeptical of his chances for a two-way statement successful nan future.
Of course, nan past fewer years had made him weary. The warfare successful Ukraine has tried his state and his family.
“When you time off location for 4 days and you don’t spell backmost for 2 years, it’s hard,” Mikhelson said.
He has recovered support from family and friends. He lived pinch his agent, Michael Lelchitski, betwixt seasons. He joined his longtime woman past fall.
Last Saturday, Skapintsev sewage into an NBA crippled for nan first time. He played 63 seconds successful a crippled that had grown sleepy by nan clip he entered because of a Bucks blowout win. Then he called his family successful Cherkasy. They had watched, and now they could return it successful together.
“I was very happy,” Skapintsev said. “After nan game, we talked astir nan way I had taken nan past 2 years and wide conscionable to get here.”
(Photo of Dmytro Skapintsev: Evan Yu / NBAE via Getty Images)