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Korolev Is Ready for His Close-Up

Times Staff Writer

Contract buyout negotiations didn’t interest 18-year-old Russian forward Yaroslav Korolev, whose focus remained on the court while his representative tried to free him to join the Clippers.

Korolev only wanted to know when a deal had been reached with a Russian club team that held his rights, because that’s when his work could begin.

“I didn’t know about any of that,” he said. “I just wanted to know when I could come and play.”

The Clippers’ No. 1 draft pick was at the Spectrum health club in El Segundo on Thursday, participating in informal workouts with Clipper veterans and rookies.

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After one session, the 6-foot-9 player said he figured to be busy, especially in the weight room, in his attempt to become a productive NBA player.

“It’s going to be hard ... very hard,” he said. “I know this. I need to develop a lot.”

And then there’s the cultural transition, which could increase Korolev’s learning curve. He said his parents plan to live with him during the season, which should help smooth his adjustment.

But the Clippers have expressed confidence in Korolev -- the 12th overall pick. No other Russian player has been selected higher in the draft, and Korolev might factor into the team’s plans this season as the primary backup at small forward.

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There’s an opportunity available to Korolev, and that’s why he’s here.

“I think I just need time,” he said. “This is a good step for me.”

Korolev couldn’t have taken it without having ended his contract with CSKA Moscow. Agent Marc Fleisher hoped to negotiate a buyout in time for Korolev to travel to the United States for training camp, which begins Oct. 3 in Santa Barbara.

The Clippers had considered having Korolev remain in Europe for more seasoning if Fleisher failed to come to terms with CSKA, but the process moved quickly enough for Korolev to have attended the NBA’s rookie transition program at Palisades, N.Y.

“There was a lot of excitement for me,” Korolev said of the program. “All this stuff is new for me. I learned a lot about America.”

And what did he learn on his first day in the Clipper program?

“I’m 18 years old and not very strong,” Korolev said. “I have to work hard in the gym.”

Korolev, however, does many things well, such as passing and shooting, the Clippers said, and those skills could help him earn a significant role as a rookie.

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“If I get playing time, great, but I have to prove I deserve playing time,” he said.

“Coaches everywhere look to defense. You have to defend your basket. That’s what I have to work on.

“But I’m a team player. I’m not a selfish player. I like to pass and [help] other guys score. How you say? Look good.”


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