Former Gator focused on NBA dreams after many destination changes, detours and doubt
He drained jump shot after jump shot during a basketball shooting drill inside IMG Academy's gym in Bradenton, Fla.
Egor Koulechov, who played at the University of Florida last season, is one of 24 players getting their chance to impress NBA scouts and team representatives at the second annual Professional Basketball Combine after not receiving an invite to the NBA Combine.
It's the opportunity to go from under the radar to putting oneself on the map.
"It's helping other people elevate their definition of success," Pro Basketball Combine founder Jake Kelfer said. "This event does that incredibly well, because everybody here wants to get to that next level so bad and they're willing to do whatever it takes."
Gator fans are already accustomed to Koulechov, who was the only UF player to play in every game last season.
His journey to the two-day combine in Bradenton, though, started with a dream, destination changes, detours and doubt.
Koulechov was already playing basketball when Steph Curry exploded on the national radar during his March Madness run with Davidson.
"He dropped 30 [points]," Koulechov said.
Seeing the fanfare and attention, Koulechov's dream became playing basketball in the United States.
"Obviously didn't know Steph was going to be that great," he said. "I just knew he scored 30-something points in the tournament and it kind of opened my eyes."
Fulfilling his dream meant Koulechov needed some destination changes. Prior to even picking up a basketball, Koulechov spent his first six years in Russia. Born in Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, Koulechov wasn't destined to play basketball until his family moved to Israel due to some trouble that Koulechov said he doesn't like talking about.
By the age of 13, Koulechov was playing basketball in Israel. At 14, he moved to a basketball academy in Israel. At 16, a move to the United States became a reality.
Koulechov boarded a plane by himself and left for South Florida, where he lived with a host family and credited his high school coach, Adam Ross, at Weston Sagemont High and other people he met along the way with his success.
"I got really lucky just by the people I met," Koulechov said.
Koulechov's path to college basketball started at Arizona State. After one season, he transferred to Rice. He played there for two seasons after sitting out one, then left for Gainesville to join the Gators as a graduate transfer.
"I decided to give this thing one last go around to stay in the States and give myself the best shot at making my dreams come true," Koulechov said.
Playing for UF gave Koulechov a great experience.
"I couldn't tell you one bad thing about Florida. I came there, I was there for about six months even. They greeted me, the guys and the coaching staff, like I was there for three years. ... The relationships I built there and the people I met there, just great people all over the place."
There were several times during Koulechov's journey that doubt crept in.
Could he fulfill his dream? Was he going to quit and go home to Israel?
"I remember sitting on that plane when I left my parents, that's when it kind of hit me," Koulechov said. "'I'm not going to see my parents every day. I'm not going to be home. I'm going to have to take care of myself."
Learning English took time, but Koulechov said he already had learned a harder language: Hebrew.
It was also tougher being the only Russian in his classes trying to understand the teacher and classmates when he was growing up in Israel, before he mastered that language.
With English, Koulechov immersed himself every chance he got with television shows, using subtitles as a guide and reruns, to pick it up faster.
Eventually, it became the third language - after Russian and Hebrew - he was fluent in.
There was a culture shock, too.
Koulechov said all he had to go off of was Hollywood movies, because that's all they had overseas to see what American life was like.
Arriving at the age of 16 at Miami International Aiport and seeing golf courses was an adjustment that wasn't easy.
Koulechov said he had doubts several times.
"I'm very thankful for every opportunity I can get," he said about the combine.