INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- In order for Sergey Karasev to have any chance at cracking the rotation, he was going to have to wow Cavaliers coach Mike Brown.
Thursday night, he did.
Karasev had 10 points and four rebounds, but his impressive performance extended well beyond the numbers. He played 34 minutes, he defended (eventually fouling out), he skipped a pass between his legs to Jermaine Taylor and he showed a quiet confidence rarely seen in a 19 year old.
Brown started him at shooting guard in part to see how he would respond. The answer? Remarkably well.
"To be 19 and to do that in a starting environment is pretty impressive," Brown said. "I sat back and said, 'OK, wow. This kid might have something to him."'
But before anyone anoints the 6-foot-8 Karasev the opening-night starter at small forward, clearly the biggest position of need midway through the preseason, there are a couple of issues to consider: Tyler Zeller and Brown's beliefs.
What does Zeller have to do with Karasev, who is from Russia? Not much, except that former coach Byron Scott tossed Zeller into the starting lineup against the Indiana Pacers in the final preseason game last year, and Zeller glistened against All-Star Roy Hibbert. He had 13 points and seven rebounds and limited Hibbert to four points and five rebounds. Based on that single preseason performance, Zeller looked like a Rookie of the Year candidate. By February, however, Zeller was worn down, overmatched and exhausted.
Beyond that, Brown doesn't really view Karasev as a small forward. Perhaps eventually he'll be able to defend the position, but right now Brown is leery to match him up against some of the league's bigger, stronger small forwards. He's content leaving him at shooting guard, where he looked awfully comfortable Thursday.
"He's either not in awe, or he's faking it really well," Brown said. "There's a certain level of confidence that he has about himself and in his game. ... You like that quiet confidence, quiet toughness that he has. He just plays the game. He can pass. He can shoot. He can dribble. He thinks the game. If you take this away, he'll go the opposite direction. If you take that away, he'll go the other way with it. He's a basketball player. We like that."
As for the pass he skipped through his legs to Taylor, Brown can live without those. He also cringed when Anderson Varejao flipped a bounce pass behind his back, but Brown has seen Varejao do it enough times that he trusts him more than he does the rookie.
"I kind of expected it from Andy," Brown said. "I think Sergey, he kind of looked at me like, 'What? That's what I do.' I was like, 'Oh my God, I need a massage. I need a neck massage.' That was tough."
Karasev briefly left the team this week to fly to the Bahamas to receive his work visa. While it sounds like a glamorous trip, it wasn't. He said he was in the Bahamas with a Cavs staffer just long enough to secure the visa and get in a quick workout, then he was on a plane back to Cleveland.
BENNETT'S sleep apnea
Brown revealed prior to Thursday's game top overall pick Anthony Bennett has sleep apnea, in addition to asthma. Bennett was trying to keep the sleep apnea diagnosis a secret, but his coach blew that one.
The Cavaliers diagnosed him with it over the summer and gave him a CPAP mask to wear at night.
"It's just something I have to get adjusted to because I never knew I had it before," he said. "I just found out."
Bennett took a sleep test for the team after he was drafted and that's how it was diagnosed. Brown revealed he, too, has sleep apnea.
"We have a couple guys who may have it," Brown said. "I think it's a common thing. It's not that big of a deal."
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