With both Chris Johnson and Quentin Thornton graduating after the upcoming season, Trent Johnson and the LSU assistant coaches would like to land a big body in the 2009 class to help replenish depth in the front court. One of the biggest prospects they are after to fill that void is Kyryl Natyazhko from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Currently the 10th ranked center in the nation, Natyazhko is still trying to get adjusted to life in the United States after coming over from Ukraine last November.
As is usually the case with European big men, Natyazhko (6-9, 255) grew up playing out on the wing. Now he is trying to transform himself into a traditional post player.
“My dream has always been to play in America and play American style ball,” Natyazhko said. “In Europe I played mostly on the perimeter because I was never taught to play in the post. But now I like playing in the post better than playing outside.”
Natyazhko flashed the ability to play inside and outside last season when he averaged 16 points, 11 rebounds and 1.6 blocks a game.
He is hoping to land somewhere that will play to his strengths on the next level and help him to continue to grow on the hardwood so that he can one day join his cousin, Kyrylo Fesenko (Utah Jazz), in the NBA.
“I want to play power forward in college, not center,” he said. “That would allow me to play in the post but still go to the perimeter every once in a while. If a bigger guy is guarding me I want to be able to play facing the basket. But if it’s a smaller guy I can just back him down.
“The hardest thing for me to get used to in America so far has been double teams,” Natyazhko continued. “In Europe they play mostly zone defense, so I never really saw double teams before. I need to work on dribbling less in the post too, because the ball gets stolen when I try to dribble too much.”
It’s rare to find a big man with the skills to play both inside and outside like Natyazhko has, so it’s no surprise that he is hearing from schools all around the country like LSU, Miami, Florida State, Arizona State, Kansas, and UCLA, amongst others.
But Natyazhko is in no hurry to make a decision. In fact, he is much more concerned with more pressing matters at this point, namely academics.
"Right now I’m just focusing on grades and ACT,” said Natyazkho, who has an offer from LSU, Miami, Arizona State, Xavier, Baylor, Florida State, and others. “So I don’t think I should be worried about taking visits or naming a list of schools. I can’t even visit schools until I take the ACT.”
While Natyazhko has put recruiting on the backburner for the time being, that doesn’t mean he isn’t staying in contact with several schools. One coach that recently came by to watch him workout was the leader of the LSU program.
“Coach Johnson came to watch me workout and get to know me a little bit last week,” said the 4-star prospect. “We got to talk for about 30 minutes after he left. He seems like a very nice person. I’m sure he’s a good coach, but he’s a good person. I felt good and comfortable around him.
“I know he just came to LSU from Stanford, where he coached Brook and Robin Lopez,” Natyazhko added. “I haven’t seen many of their games, but I saw highlights of some, like when they beat Marquette. I like how coach Johnson made them the stars of the team. He could teach me some things about playing defense too.”
The fact that Natyazhko feels comfortable with Johnson could prove to be very fortunate for the Tigers in the end, because his relationship with the coaches is going to play a large role in his decision.
“Relationship with the coach and people around me is really important,” Natyazhko said. “I’m still getting used to being in America, so I want to be around people I can believe in and who have my back.”
A couple of other factors could play into LSU’s favor as well.
“Academic support will be important too because I want to get my degree,” Natyazhko added. “The opportunity to play will also be important. I want to come in and help the team win games, so I’m going to watch a lot of teams this season to see where I would fit in best.”