SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) - It's the return of AK.
Andrei Kirilenko, who played ten seasons with the Jazz, takes on his former team for the first time tonight when Utah hosts the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"I had a great ten years here," Kirilenko said. "I feel like I'll know every fan in the first ten rows. It's going to be fun. It's going to be very strange, but I guess that's the basketball life."
After ten years in the home team locker room, Kirilenko said he had no idea where the visitors side was.
"I didn't even know the guest locker room was here," he said with a smile. "I was like, 'Where is the guest locker room? OK, right here, sure."
Jazz fans no doubt have mixed feelings about Kirilenko. At time, AK played like an all-star, and if fact was named to the NBA all-star team after the 2003-2004 season. But he also suffered through multiple injuries, and crippled the team's salary cap with a 6-year, $86-million dollar he signed in 2004.
So how will fans treat him tonight?
"I bet tonight it's going to be tough to play against [the fans]," Kirilenko said. "I grew up here as an NBA player. I played the majority of my career here, so there have been tons of great moments."
"He's a tremendous guy," said Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin. "He's a really, really good teammate. He had a great run here with us. The guys really enjoyed having him on the team and I really enjoyed coaching him."
Now 31, Kirilenko, who played in Russia during the lockout shortened season, is playing very well for the surprising Timberwolves. Kirilenko is averaging 13.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. He has played in 23 of Minnesota's 27 games this season and is a big reason why the T-Wolves are one game over .500.
"This team really reminds of the season after John [Stockton] and Karl [Malone] left," Kirilenko said, referring to the 2003-2004 Jazz team. "We're very young, ambitious and really fighting for a spot in the playoffs. It's fun to play that way. Every night you want to get that extra win."
"He's all over the board, numbers-wise," said Corbin. "He's a versatile player, looking to pass before scoring. He's very active, and when he's playing that way he's able to affect the game in different ways."
Now in his 11th NBA season, Kirilenko, who signed a 2-year, $20-million contract with Minnesota during the off-season, hopes to play for at least three or four more years. But he's not ruling out a longer run.
"As soon as I started playing again, I feel like I can run," he said. "As long as you can run and feel good, you can keep playing."
So how does Kirilenko hope to be remembered by Jazz fans?
"I've always been a fan of being remembered as a good person, rather than just a good player."