Nowadays, every year there are a couple international prospects that appear near the top of a lot of NBA draft boards, even though few people in the United States have ever seen them play. They put up huge stats in Europe, and NBA GMs hope and pray that those prospects turn into the players they projected them to be.
Rewind to about 15 years ago, when on March 22nd, 2004, a young 7’-1” Russian prospect playing in Ontario, Canada by the name of Ivan Chiriaev committed to play basketball at Iowa State University.
That’s where this journey begins.
As spring went on, Chiriaev began skyrocketing up NBA draft boards as reports of his athleticism and talent at 7’-1” began creeping out of St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
Probably more than his basketball ability, Chiriaev most gifted at self-promotion. When asked what position he felt most comfortable at, he unequivocally answered, “Point guard. Definitely point guard.” He compared himself to Kevin Garnett while refuting comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki, boasting his ability to “play all five positions.”
Everyone around Chiriaev even bought into his rhetoric. “They come out of the gym with looks of astonishment on their faces,” a ‘source close to Chiriaev said in one interview, talking about NBA and college scouts. Said another possibly insane ‘source’ in another interview: “Ivan Chiriaev is one of the most talented high school players I’ve ever seen. His combination of shooting, passing and dribbling skills are very rare for a player his size. He’s a player legitimately capable of playing all five positions with amazing agility and offensive skills. When you have a 7-foot-1 kid with this kind of athleticism and skill development, scouts’ biological reflexes start kicking in: pupils dilate, eyebrows raise, hearts flutter and jaws begin to drop. What really grabs you is his body control and ability to change directions. His quickness is alarming.”
His stat lines seemed to back up the hype, as he posted 26.8 points, 17.3 rebounds, 9.2 assists and 52 percent shooting as a high school senior. What nobody knew at the time, was those were completely made up. His high school coach never even kept player statistics.
As May 2004 rolled around, Chiriaev’s stock was at an all-time high, even projecting as a first round draft pick by some outlets, even though nobody had really ever seen him play. Chiriaev decided to play in the 2004 Addidas All-Canadian Game in front of dozens of NBA scouts to finally let his play do the talking. So what did those NBA scouts see?
- A vertical jump that rivaled that of someone on crutches.
- Was able to dribble the ball and walk at the same time.
- His ‘alarming’ quickness was alarmingly not quick.
- He made a few layups, but did not appear to be able to dunk despite being over seven feet tall.
- Attempted three pointers.
The NBA scouts were climbing over each other to get out of the building by halftime. Chiriaev scored 17 points and was named the game’s MVP, but the crowd reportedly actually BOOED him as he received his award.
In a matter of two hours, Chiriaev went from NBA lottery prospect to one of the most vilified Canadian prospects ever.
After being completely embarrassed by NBA scouts, Chiriaev packed his bags and headed to Russia, where he played with Dynamo Moscow for one season. During that season, Chiriaev played a grand total of nine minutes over the course of three games while scoring zero points on 0-4 shooting, including 0-3 from beyond the arc, and recording three personal fouls. On the bright side, he did record one assist, one steal, one block, and one rebound for his Russian career.
After his year in Moscow, Chiriaev moved to the Netherlands to play for MyGuide Amsterdam in the Dutch League. During his one season with the club, he literally played zero minutes. He didn’t log any stats. Chiriaev then left the team and retired from professional basketball (or at least we assume he did since nobody has seen the guy since...seriously, there are only five pictures of him on the entirety of the internet).
Was he ever going to play for Iowa State? Probably not. Had he actually impressed anybody in Canada, he would have likely stayed in the draft. However, the legacy Ivan Chiriaev will live on forever as a symbol of what can happen when people believe everything a player or coach says about a prospect without ever watching the player actually play, especially as it applies to international prospects.
Oh well. I guess at least we didn’t have to be the ones to figure out he was terrible.