Chiriaev a Dynamo

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

During the Cold War, North Americans feared that the Russians would send over a bomb.

As it turns, Canada sent a bomb the other way.

Ivan Chiriaev, who played high school ball at St. Thomas Aquinas in Oakville, went from being a kid who some thought would one day star in the NBA, perhaps the first Canadian-based high schooler to jump right to the NBA, to a non-talent bust.

The 7-foot-1 forward moved to Canada in 2002 from Russia in the hopes of developing his basketball skills while attracting attention from U.S. college schools and NBA scouts. But Chiriaev's stock began to fall during his second season and plunged further after he bombed at the All-Canada Basketball Game in Mississauga last May. There he was exposed as a not-ready-for-prime-time player, and not even the best teenaged player in the Toronto area.

Still, when you're 7-foot-1 and only a year out of high school, teams always will be willing to take a chance, as was the case this month. Dynamo Moscow, which plays in the Russian Superleague, has signed Chiriaev to a professional contract.

The Russian league is considered a good pro loop and Moscow Dynamo, currently second in the standings, is a solid team.

Chiriaev never helped his cause when suggested to the media that he could be better than Dirk Nowitzki and "a new type of player, someone 7-foot-1 who can play shooting guard or even point guard."

TITLE HOPES HEAT UP

Miami Heat fans are beginning to truly believe that an NBA title can be had this season with Alonzo Mourning soon to be coming off the bench for the 39-14 squad that already includes Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade. Expect Mourning, who could purchase a villa in the French Riviera and a monster yacht to take him there courtesy of the millions he received from the Raptors not to play, to get 12-15 minutes a game as a frontcourt defensive specialist in Miami. But even with those limited minutes, Mourning will bring to the Heat qualities that great teams can never get enough of, particularly on-court toughness. And while the Heat are said to be thrilled to have the 35-year-old Mourning ready to sign aboard, those close to him are still reluctant to see him play again, including, according to the Miami Herald, his wife Tracy and his old coach at Georgetown, John Thompson. It was just a year ago December when Mourning had a kidney transplant after being diagnosed with focal glomerulosclerosis and if he plays again, he'll have to wear a customized, fiberglass pad to protect his kidney. Given the physical style of game he brings to the court and the fact that, when it comes to this disease, a transplant is not always a cure, Mourning is running the risk of permanently damaging his health.

FOUL BUSINESS

Whether Vince Carter is a new man in New Jersey or not you know he always is going to be a soft player. One of Vinsanity's big complaints while he was in Toronto was the mean and nasty way he was guarded by the San Antonio Spurs' Bruce Bowen.

Last season Carter claimed that a sprained ankle he suffered in a game against the Spurs was the result of a dirty Bowen play, in which he places his foot between the legs of the shooter as he comes down. The tune hasn't changed this season. Carter went down hard last week when Bowen allegedly took out his feet on touch down from a jump shot -- something Carter and his backers claim Bowen has been doing for years.

"It's a foul, No. 1," Nets president Rob Thorn told the New York Post. "It's illegal. But No. 2, it's dangerous. If you called the foul and the guy knows he can't get away with it, he's not going to do it. That's what's very disappointing. It's a foul. It's a very dangerous play. It's a ridiculous play. Someone could break a leg."

FLIPPED OUT

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, fired Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders expressed confidence to team officials just prior to his dismissal last week that the underperforming team would turn it around in March after many players, including star forward Kevin Garnett, became healthy again. In fact, Saunders, just before he was canned, was going to talk Garnett about logging fewer minutes in order to help his sore knee recover quicker. Saunders added that Sam Cassell, Troy Hudson and Michael Olowokandi all had surgery in the summer and wouldn't hit their stride until late this season. Garnett, by the way, was selected as the No. 2 trash talker in the NBA in a poll conducted by Sports Illustrated. Boston Celtics guard Gary Payton is the top trash talker by a resounding 54%.

GRIN AND BARRETT

- Rowan Barrett of Mississauga has been a loyal and solid player with the men's national team for years. He's also having another great season for Dijon in the French Elite League. Through 21 games, Barrett is averaging a league-best 21.7 points per game for 9-12 Dijon and poured in 43 points in a 103-73 win over Vichy recently, the second biggest output in the French league this season.

FAST BREAKS

- Charles Barkley will be in TNT's studio as an NBA analyst for three more seasons. The former NBA star extended his agreement with the show through the 2007-08 season ... Nikki Johnson of the women's national team is seventh overall in the German professional league scoring standings, averaging 15.5 points per game. The Niagara Falls native, who plays for Dorsten, recently scored 23 points in a 82-79 win over 74 Gottingen ... The Portland Trail Blazers have been the NBA's bad guys for years, and even good deeds by the players backfire. Case in point. Recently the Blazers' Zach Randolph wrote a cheque for $47,000 US to help out the Portland Parks and Recreation department. Unfortunately, the cheque bounced and the Blazers had to wire the money to cover it ... From the Goodwill That Did Not Go Bad department. Some players with the Houston Rockets chipped in to buy 7-foot-6 centre Yao Ming a customized bicycle as a Chinese New York present. The bike reportedly cost $20,000.


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