Three years ago, on something of a whim, Sasha Kaun and his wife, Taylor, flew from Russia to New Orleans to watch Kansas face Kentucky in the 2012 NCAA Championship Game.
The flight was brutally long, as flights from Russia to the United States tend to be. But Kaun wanted to be there in person, inside the Superdome as the Jayhawks competed for another title.
Four years earlier, Kaun had been on the floor in the Alamodome as the Jayhawks outlasted Memphis in overtime for the third NCAA title in school history. On that Monday night in New Orleans, the Jayhawks would fall to Kentucky, but a few months later, Kansas coach Bill Self was still marveling at Kaun’s journey.
Who flies from Russia to New Orleans just to see a basketball game?
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It was a moment worth remembering on Monday, as Kaun announced his retirement from professional basketball at the age of 30. Kaun, who since 2008 has played for CSKA Moscow in the top division of Russian basketball, told European basketball reporter Alexander Chernykh that he was ready to move on. Kaun, who won a VTB League championship in his final season, is expected to relocate back to the United States, where he has resided in the offseason with his wife, a former KU soccer player, in recent years.
There are other reasons, of course, for Kansas fans to remember Kaun, a 6-foot-11 center from Tomsk, Russia. A member of Self’s first true recruiting class at KU, Kaun was a defensive rock and part-time starter during one of the most successful four-year runs in program history. Kaun helped the Jayhawks to the Elite Eight in 2007 and the Final Four in 2008, saving one of his best games for the Jayhawks’ victory over Davidson in the Midwest Regional final in Detroit.
Kaun was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics with the 56th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft and soon traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kaun never played in the NBA, though, instead electing to pursue a lucrative professional career in his native Russia.
Kaun, who arrived at Kansas for the 2004-05 season, was also something of a trailblazer. Before Self landed Cheick Diallo (Mali), Svi Mykhailiuk (Ukraine) or Joel Embiid (Cameroon), Kaun was an international player who thrived in the KU system.
In four years at Kansas, he averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds while shooting 56.8 percent from the floor. Kaun, who also helped Russia win a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics, averaged 7.6 points and 3.6 rebounds in six seasons for CSKA Moscow.