Nikita Khartchenkov (201-SF-1987) is a 35 year old 201cm forward that has been been playing professionally for almost two decades and played more than 500 games. Currently he is playing for his 14th professional team and third year with the EN Baskets Schwelm. He played for clubs like TV Langen, Khimki Moscow, Braunschweig, Chemnitz, MBC, Duesseldorf, Freiburg, Sibu (Romania), Essen, Leipzig, Hagen, Schalke and Iserlohn. He played 114 easyCredit BBL games and 72 pro A games and shot 40% or better from outside in 6 seasons. He spoke to germanhoops.com about his basketball career.
Nikita thanks for talking to germanhoops.com. Where are you at the moment and how is basketball life treating you at the moment?
Hi Miles, it is always a pleasure! I’m living in Essen and playing for Schwelm. Basketball life is going well. After a bad season start we found together as a team and we perform way better now.
Before we get to basketball, please explain how you have experienced COVID in the last 2 years? What were the biggest challenges for you as a player?
It’s crazy to realize that it is already the third year affected by COVID! For us players it is strange to play with less fans or even without any crowd at all. It’s an individual think to treat this situation. I felt, that we had a team that was able to find the motivation in each other faces. Of course it was not the same like playing at home and hear the crowd or playing away and make the opponents crowd silent. But to be honest, we have to be thankful that we were still allowed to do our favorite think- to play the game! On the other hand it was a very hard situation especially for children and seniors. I only can imagine how hard it was for them! I hope that the situation will get better!
With everything that you have experienced off the court with COVID, how do you feel did you grow as a person and get stronger as a man?
I think basketball is a good preparation for any situation in life. I could adapt to the situation and kept my focus on the things I do. The good thing is that I saw my kids more often while I was working from home and they had homeschooling!
Your playing your 19th professional season and have played for 14 organizations. What have you enjoyed most about the basketball globetrotter life?
There are a lot of things! Basketball specifically it is the process to grow together as a team and become a unit during the season. On the other Hand it is a huge life experience by getting to know the teammates from different countries, different mentalities and backgrounds and to find with everyone ‘the same language’. That gain is not written in any contract but makes you develop as a person and human being!
How do you feel physically? What have been the biggest challenges body wise to keep being able to play professional basketball?
I feel good so far! I was blessed not to have bigger injuries during my career. I have the advantage towards most players that I’m playing usually between 2 three point arcs, so I don’t run that much. Biggest challenge right now is the time management. Unfortunately I don’t have much time to visit the weight room. But a short time for core exercises is very helpful for myself.
You never played for one pro team for more than 3 seasons. You are playing your third season with the EN Baskets Schwelm. Can you imagine ending your career with them one day?
At the moment I’m not thinking about the retirement: I love the game, I have no physical issues, the opponents are still putting ink on the scouting report when they are preparing for Schwelm. I like the situation in Schwelm. It’s an organization with ambitions, lovely crowd a great gym. A lot of volunteers, which are helping in every possible situation. I can imagine to retire here, but don’t ask me how old I will be.
You played parts of 6 years in the easyCredit BBL and played 2 seasons in the Pro A. The rest in the Pro B and Regionalliga. How much of a challenge was it always having a job during the pro B/Regionalliga years and juggling basketball? What kind of jobs did you have?
The biggest challenge is the 24 hours shot clock. I have to separate the focus between Basketball, Job and family. To coordinate everything in the balanced way- this is the biggest challenge! But once you get used to a certain rhythm-you can manage it! My first job was in a Tax and Audit company named KPMG. Starting from this year I changed the employer and start to work in the public sector also as a financial and tax specialist.
You come from a basketball family. Your father was a well known Russian player and coach. How vital has he been for your early basketball development. Did he help develop your shot?
All I know as a Basketball player- I learned from him! The conversations during lunch or after his team had a game…Basketball was present everywhere. He also developed my shot and he is the only person, who sees why I missed a certain shot and knows how to correct it.
You signed with the Opel Skyliners when you were 15 years old, but never played a game. Talk a little about what happened with the Skyliners and why the match wasn’t made in heaven?
After staying one season in Freiburg where my father was coaching the second Bundesliga team, I had two offers to stay in Germany with Rhondorf or Frankfurt Skyliners. At that time I was also a prospect for the U-16 team, but didn’t have a citizenship yet. When I was 15 years old, the decision was made to sign a 9 year contract with Frankfurt . I think also because of the fact, I got German citizenship then. In public interest is what the official document said, so at that time that is how I had both citizenships. The first two years I played for TV Langen in the youth sector, Regio and second Bundesliga. When I was 17, my father took the project Khimki 2. At that time I knew that would be the best situation development wise. I talked with Frankfurt if I could play for Khimki and it was no problem for them. After the second year with Khmiki, I played for the German U-20 team where Emir Mutapcic was the coach. He was also coach with Braunschweig and he invited me to go to Braunschweig. Again Frankfurt had no interest to invite me for a try out. I think the Frankfurt coach didn’t even know I was under contract with Frankfurt. After two seasons in Braunschweig, I was about to resign there, when Frankfurt management wanted to make use of their rights. Again there was no talk for a try out. But there were talks what kind of buyout Braunschweig had to pay Frankfurt to get my rights. At the end of the day, Braunschweig wasn’t ready to pay the buy out. After that experience, I wasn’t ready to play for Frankfurt. Frankfurt offered me to play for Kronberg (Reg 1) if I want to stay under contract. Of course that was no option for me. I then started a process with my lawyer to get out of the contract with Frankfurt which I had signed at age 15. Surprisingly I lost the process and had to pay a pretty sum for the free agent status. Because that I wasn’t a local player in Russia anymore because of the non Illegality to play for the Russian national team, it was almost impossible to get a job in the Russian Superliga A while the imports were always top international or ex NBA players. Was the decision wrong to sign with Frankfurt at age 15? I don’t know. Nobody knows how my career would have worked out had I stayed in Russia. The intention was positive for sure.
You were 16 years old when you were with TV Langen in 2003-2004. What memories do you have from that time? How big was your ambition to be a professional player?
I remember my guest family, the Kuehl’s. They were treating me very well and helped me a lot in this situation. Even If I knew the language and mentality, subconsciously it was still a tough situation. As an individual coach I had an old friend from my father, who worked individually with me, Jo Herber, Robin Benzing, Malik Badiane. From the team perspective I had all options to develop the game: U18 team, Regionalliga and that time 2. Bundesliga Nord.
What memories do you have from the Albert Schweitzer tournament in 2003? What talented guys do you remember playing against there?
It was a great tournament! We had a team which was underestimated from a lot of experts. Still we finished on the 7th place an performed really good. I remember the game against the US where we lost very close at the end. Before that I had a small injury, but I couldn’t miss this one. At the end I scored 32 Points, but it was not enough against Kyle Lowry and co, Sergio Rodriguez and Ersan Ilyasova were also guys to mention! I like both players a lot!
You then were two years with Khimki 2 from 2004-2006. What memories do you have of the basketball there? How was the youth development there in comparison to in Germany? Things have obviously changed now as Germany made big strides in youth development in the last decade.
At Khimki I played for the team coached by my father. Don’t even think it was easy because of that! He expected a lot from me as a player! That time I played with Khimki-2, the team was a mix from experienced guys and young and talented players. We had a good chemistry and learned a lot from each other. During the regular season we had 60 games which was a lot for that time. Also the Superliga B was allocated through whole Russia. I just remember the game against Vladivostok: 9 hours flight. On the other hand I played with the Khimki youth team, which had 5 guys from my hometown Saint-Petersburg. We were always fighting for the gold medal against CSKA. Remembering it with a smile!
When you were Khimki you were two years younger than Vitaly Fridzon who is still playing today with Zenit in the Euroleague. What memories do you have of him and did you think then a guy like that could have such a long and decorated career?
In my second year with Khimki 2 Vitaly was playing almost the whole year with us. Then for the playoffs the first team had some injury problems and they took him to the roster, where he became a good roleplayer pretty fast. He is a very good example, that there are many options to play the game. some players are athletic, others a smart and some are just working the hell out out of their selves. Vitaly never had a special talent in Basketball skill, but with hard work and staying after every practice at the gym, he could compensate a lot and had (and still have) an incredible carrier!
You then played two seasons with Braunschweig playing mainly for the farm team, but got a chance and played 32 BBL games. What memories do you have from this time? You came to Braunschweig having played a super U-20 EM in Turkey. When you look back do you feel like you were personally able to take all you could from the situation?
When I signed with Braunschweig I was very sure that I will have my role around 15 minutes in the first season in BBL. Coach Mutapcic had other ideas and I was the perspective guy in his eyes. When coaches feel unsecure on their position they don’t want to ‘risk’ and let young guys play a lot. Still I had the 2. Bundesliga team where I could show my ability to play. Thanks also to Liviu Calin during that time. He been a hard but always a fair coach and person! I always tell the younger guys: Do whatever you can what is in your responsibility and range. There always be some underwater stones which you will not see, but be honest to yourself and try your best!
How do you remember Emir Mutaptic as a head coach? How do you remember him helping you with your game in that time?
Muki knows the game very good! Back in the days he was also a good player. I think his priority in Braunschweig was to make his own name as a Headcoach and not thinking about development of young players. So basically he had no impact on my development.
In 2008-2009 you took a step back to play Pro A and had a great season with BV Chemnitz 99 averaging Score-5 (18.3ppg), 2.8rpg, 1.4apg, FGP: 49.3%, 3PT: 41.7%, FT: 81.1%. How thankful are you for head coach Torsten Loibl for giving you a great opportunity to get minutes and play your game?
I like to remember the Chemnitz times! Thorsten helped me a lot especially in the situation where I had to pay my buy out for the Opel Skyliners. Also I learned from him the ‘japanese’ mentality: Always stay positive! He was leaving it even in stressful situations during the games!
In the 2009-2010 season you returned to the BBL with the Mitteldeutscher BC Weissenfels (Germany-1.Bundesliga) averaging 6.8ppg, 1.1rpg, FGP: 40.0%, 3PT: 41.0%, FT: 75.5%. How do you remember your game growing? How were you a better player then then in Braunschweig?
Coming to MBC I collected already a lot of experience in Pro A and was ready for the next step. The preseason and the first half of the season were very good for me individually and for us as a team! Then Bjoern Harmsen made some changes by cutting playing time from three players including myself. At that moment I was too motivated to understand those changes. During the whole season we played good team Basketball and finished with a 18-16 record.
What memories do you have of Bjoern Harmsen. He is a coach that has been lauded time in and time out for his basketball knowledge. Do you remember having a special 1-1 moment with him that you will never forget?
That time his scouting was on the next level! We knew every play and breath from the opponent! And we where preparing very disciplined and professional for the games!
1-1 moment: sure. But this moment will stay 1-1!
In 2010-2011 you split time with the Duesseldorf Giants (Germany-1.Bundesliga) averaging 4.1ppg, 1.2rpg; and in Feb.’11 moved to USC Freiburg (Germany-ProA) averaging 13.8ppg, 4.5rpg, 1.7apg, 1.5spg, FGP: 34.9%, 3PT: 29.3%, FT: 82.0%. In Duesseldorf you played for Murat Didin. He isn’t always the easiest guy to play for. Were you able to come to terms with his eccentric character?
I think whoever played for Murat remembers him as ‘Baba’ and the craziest coach ever! I make it short: we had 9 players which we changed before the season started! Under this circumstances it would be unrealistic to expect a good season. My turn to go came in January and I was not discussing much about it.On the other hand, he was playing the game as a coach, not working it. He tried to read situations, maybe even provoke opponents! Very eccentric as you already mentioned.
In 2011-2012 you went to play for CSU Atlassib Sibiu (Romania-Division A) averaging 17.1ppg, 3.4rpg, 1.2apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 52.0%, 3PT: 35.2%, FT: 83.1%. You had a great season scoring 40 and 38 points in games but returned back to Germany. You would never play out of Germany again. Did you get home sick?
Sibiu was a great experience for me! We had 9 Imports including myself. The arenas in Romania were great and the fan culture also. After the first season I had a chance to sign with another Eurochallenge team from Romania, but they kept their American at the end. The GM from Sibiu heard about the request from my agent, so he was not happy with this situation and didn’t offer me to stay for the second season. Home sick? No!
In 2012-2013 you split time with Uni-Riesen Leipzig (Germany-ProA) averaging 15.5ppg, 4.0rpg, 1.8apg, 2FGP: 42.3%, 3FGP: 36.6%, FT: 78.9%, and in Jan.’13 moved to the Nuernberger Basketball Club (Germany-ProA) averaging 14.6ppg, 2.3rpg, FGP: 50.6%, 3PT: 41.0%, FT: 83.6%. You had great stats for two different teams in one season. What has been your secret to always being consistent whereever you have played?
I’m wondering, where you finding all this stats! I try to adapt my game to the team which I’m playing for. In case Leipzig and Nuernberg there were actually different styles of playing Basketball, but what didn’t change, was the height of the Basket.
From 2013-2015 you played parts of two more seasons in the BBL with Phoenix Hagen which were your last. Why do you think that you didn’t have a longer BBL career?
In my second year in Hagen, the coach was not really interested to let me play or even practice. It was a pretty hard situation to accept, but the Teams also didn’t see me playing for a while. The fact that a player needs game minutes is still very important. After realising the situation I was thinking to play Basketball semiprofessional and invest more time for the education regarding the Job in future. Also I couldn’t move around forever with my family.
The time as a professional Player was great, but there was a lot more in life.
People will always remember you as having a deadly three pointer. Do you feel people saw you too much as one dimensional?
Back in the days young players where watching MJ and Kobe driving to the Basket, finishing crazy dunks and fade away jumpers. Since Curry came to the game and changed it in the NBA but also for the young players, who start to work more and more on their shots. Now a days don’t matter where you come from, the new generation is a shooting generation! Back in the days specially in the BBL you couldn’t see that many shooters, because the most imports were coming from the states where the focus still was on athleticism and fast game instead of shooting the ball well. A deadly three pointer is not the worst thing in my opinion. Off course, the distance shot is my strength, but there are also other options when my shot is guarded well. I think people see the most used part of my game and this is the distance shot.
I always thought that your offensive game should have been used more in Hagen under Ingo Freyer. Did that club simply have all the offense they needed with their Americans Bell, Dorris, Gordon and Dugat?
Playing in Hagen was a Basketball cultural shock even for me. The game plan was being aggressive, attack don’t matter what and what the score or shot clock says! The guards you mentioned where very good individuals! I remember once after 10-12 games played in the season Ole Wendt came to me and said: look we both are leading in the BBL plus-minus stats! What I want to say is that the mix is important: you can run and gun a lot, but there are also periods where you need to slow the pace down and play smart Basketball. That time was also a pleasure for me to play with Bernd Krull! Ingo has his own vision of Basketball. He was thinking about what he could do with Hagen resources to compete in the BBL. So he made his own idea to play run and gun Basketball. People who understands the game might not like it, but it worked. I think it is important to have an own signature as a coach.
You must have a special David Bell story. I can imagine you guys had some shooting battles in practice?
Dave was a great shooter with a very quick release! I remember him making arounds90+ out of 100 attempts, and this day by day! Because of his quick trigger and a very flat flying curve I didn’t have much options to win shooting competitions, but as long it came down to 5-5 in practice we had great moments against each other!
How tough was the 2014-2015 season. After you left Hagen, you were briefly with Essen in the Pro A and ended in the Regionalliga with Schalke. Was that your basketball low point going from the BBL to the Regionalliga in one season?
Leaving Hagen was the right decision! I wanted to leave after the first season, but I didn’t have similar options. During the second season I was not even allowed to practice from the coaching staff. All that and the fact, that I rarely had playing time destroyed my rhythm a lot! When I agreed to play for Essen it was fix, that I will do it just for three games. For the rest of the season I decided to start an education to prepare the situation for the time after the active carrier. For that reason Schalke was the right situation, because I couldn’t practice twice a day anymore. Off course it was a huge drop level wise, but I think in this situation it was the right decision.
In Schalke you were teammates with Lithuanian sniper Andrius Mikutis. What was it like being teammates with such a great shooter? You met him again this season in the Pro B.
He is not only a great shooter, he is also a great teammate and professional! His shot is very dynamic and high percentage. This season we changed home wins with each other while both games had been very close. At least we could secure the point difference. If we meet in the playoffs it’s going be a really good competition again!
You played two seasons in Iserlohn. How was it for once not being the oldest player as Jozo Brkic was older. Did you become a mentor for younger players as you got older?
Jozo is older then me, but he stood young. At the end it’s not about the numbers in the passport. I am always open and helping guys to improve their game and also mentality. There are players who listen and change things, but sometimes players are thinking they already knowing everything. My favorite part is still when I can show it in my own person on the court! This are the moments when I feel the respect from my teammates. It’s not about the age or what you did in the past- it’s always about now!
How have you seen the further development of younerman Daniel Mayr who had so much misfortune in his life with brutal injuries. One has to wonder where he would be today had he been able to play with the Fraport Skyliners in 2016 and not been out of action for 3 years.
He is a very tall player with a soft touch! But there are things in life you can’t control. It’s a very bad luck to be injured that long at this age! But Basketball is not only a game, it’s a life lesson! Whatever you do, what is in your responsibility- you have to do it at your maximum level. This works out on the Basketball court and is the right attitude for the ‘regular’ life. Now his focus has to be not on: ‘Where I could play, if everything would be going well’, but ‘I’m in this situation right now. I will do my best to play my highest level possible!’
How disappointed are you that you can’t play against highly talented 15 year old half brother Ivan Khartchenkov in the Pro B who is with FC Bayern Munich 2? How far will his path go and do you mentor him?
It is disappointing that we will not play against each other this season! But who knows, maybe the time will come next year! I believe that if he will keep working hard on his game and improve it step by step, and the fortune will be on his side, he will make it to the highest level! We do talk before and after the games, sometimes I can watch them.
He understands and make clear analysis of his strengths and also weaknesses. In fact he has the game in his blood!
You had many memorable BBL games. Which was your most memorable game? Possibly your 19 points in the Hagen win over Oldenburg where you had more points then Americans Rickey Paulding and Julius Jenkins?
This could be one of the most memorable one. Before this game I was playing maybe 5 minutes a game for a while. For some reason Ingo Freyer thought: ‘Why not let Nikita start and run the whole offense over him against Nemanja Alexandrov.’ It worked out very well and we kicked Oldenburg out of our gym that night. Another memorable game was MBC vs Bamberg in Weienfels. My match up was Casey Jacobsen, one of the greatest shooters in BBL history and I was his match up to. Funny fact was that both teams where running turnouts the whole time while the shooters where on the court! This game was exhausting for both of us! At the end we won in a close game. I had solid 12 points, I think Casey had 14. That was a good memory!
Please name your toughest players to play against in the BBL, Pro A and Pro B.
Rickey Paulding, Casey Jacobsen, Julius Jenkins, Kyle Hines, Jason Edwin.
Please name your 5 best teammates of all-time.
Zack Wright, Vitaly Fridzon, Anton Ponkrashov, Ahmad Smith, Donte Nicholas.
Please list your personal NBA Mount Rushmore of past or present heads?
Thats a very tough one as long I have only 4 calls. I will stay in present days: Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Luka Doncic and I even take today Ja Morant.
Will a Luka Doncic be in the same class of a Lebron James, Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan in 15-20 years?
Legends you are mentioning already have some titles in their portfolio. Luka is not there yet. His individual game is from another world. He controls his action and the defender very well. Two pieces have to be done in my opinion to join him the mentioned Superstars: A team around him which is capable to win titles and that himself will always enjoy the game and have fun! Now you see him smiling, making jokes and still being focused during games.
I think he will be right there!
What was the last movie that you saw?
House of Gucci. But it wasn’t worth to watch it. One more word to you, Miles: Thanks a lot for being a part of German Basketball for that long period! Keep loving and following the game! My best wishes to you in everything you do!
Thanks Nikita for the chat.