Another humid day brings another fiery foreigner, with this edition highlighting the beloved Vitaly Potapenko. Born in Kiev, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (back in the USSR, you don’t know how lucky you are) on March 21, 1975, Vitaly, nicknamed “The Ukraine Train” played for four NBA franchises in his career.
Fortunate enough to play college basketball in the states, Vitaly, was selected 12th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1996 draft out of Wright State University. On March 11, 1999 Vitaly was sent to Boston in exchange for Andrew DeClercq, who surprisingly is not a foreigner, although the last name spelling throws us off.
Every NBA team that employed the Ukraine Train seemed to have traded his rights, except for Sacramento, which let his diminished skills lead his way back to overseas leagues. The Celtics traded the 6 ft 10 in, 280 lbs center in 2002, along with Kenny Anderson, to Seattle in exchange for Shammond Williams and Vin (Gin) Baker.
Vitaly majored in sociology while at Wright State, which I am sure many people under socialist regimes have done to gain a better understanding of it, which is a debate for another day. His second favorite sport is soccer (surprise) and his favorite ice cream flavor is vanilla. Okay, I made that ice cream stat up.
Starting 32 out of his first 33 games with the Celtics, Vitaly was mostly a role player after the 99’-00’ season where he started in 72 games. Playing more minutes off the bench the following year, Vitaly’s stats slowly declined in points (10.8 to 4.6), rebounds (7.3 to 4.4) and assists (1.8 to 0.4). He never really accumulated defensive stats, never averaging over a block again nor a steal a game.
Eleven seasons is pretty good for a journeyman center who was included in more packages than Godiva chocolates. Vitaly earned more than $40 million over his career, which is a pretty successful career in a league where so few players last a decade. Still my favorite first name of any foreigner out there, Vitaly, Vitaly, he likes to party (play on Venga Boys song).