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Starting to Feel a Little Russian

Doron Perkins is excited. The 26-year-old point guard who grew up in Alaska, played his college basketball at Santa Clara, and is currently living in Las Vegas.

Check his passport, and it will tell you he's American. He is on the phone, giddy with excitement that he's going to play for his country.

"Not a lot of people get the opportunity to play for their national team," he says. "To play in the Olympics, or the World Championships, it's a very special opportunity. I just hope I play well and hold up my end of the deal. It would be great to be on this team for a long time."

There isn't even money in it.

"It's mainly like a volunteer type of job, you know? You go there, you're just there to represent your country. I'm sure they'll take care of little things. But mainly you're just there to play and represent your country."

The only thing is, it's not his country.

Like Becky Hammon and J.R. Holden before him, Doron Perkins is just about to become Russian.

He's flying out early next week.

International Player
In pursuing his professional basketball dreams, Perkins has played just about everywhere but the United States, including Japan, Belgium, Germany and Israel. (Does he speak all those languages? Not exactly. "I know a couple words," he admits, "but I couldn't put together a sentence in any language except English. ... If I'm in Russia for more than one year, I'll definitely learn.")

After learning Holden would be taking time away from the Russian national team, the Russian team's American/Israeli coach David Blatt contacted Perkins about joining the Russian team. Perkins was thrilled for a few different reasons.

The first was the opportunity to play in an elite international setting.

The second was the boost a Russian passport can give to an American basketball player's earning power.

Many of the world's professional basketball leagues have rules to prevent imported Americans from taking over. In some leagues, teams are allowed only a limited number of foreign players. And in Russia, for instance, there are rules that two Russians must be on the floor for each team at every moment. The idea is to give a special opportunity to those young players who grew up in Russia.

Or, I guess, Alaska.

The long and short of it is that history has shown that when they get foreign passports, U.S. players have a healthy track record of improving their earnings. Knowing this opportunity was in the cards, Perkins and his agent have purposefully put off signing a contract for the upcoming season, knowing that with a Russian passport he'll be more valuable. And the paperwork could be done in a matter of weeks: The national team has told Perkins to be ready for the Eurobasket tournament in early September in Poland.

Backlash?
What about Americans who will be bitter at Perkins for being a mercenary? What about people who think people on national teams should be, you know, from that country?

Won't he be hearing from angry people about this new job of his?

"I don't expect that at all," he says. For one thing, Perkins has already run the idea by some former American military people, including his mom. "She's all for it," he says. "She's 100% in my corner on this one."

And besides, he points out, "it's not like I was going to get an invite to be on the Dream Team. This was my only opportunity to be on a national team."

Those who would criticize Perkins for this, he feels, don't really understand all that it means to him: "If you don't take this opportunity," he says, "you'll probably miss out on a lot of things you'll probably never ever come across."

But picture the scene: The star-spangled banner is playing at the 2012 Olympics in London, and Perkins, a child of Alaska, is on the other team? "It wouldn't be weird for me at all," he swears. "It would be a blessing to play against some of the best players in the world."

The uniform he's wearing when that happens ... that's just not what he's focused on.

The Russian coach is happy. Perkins is happy. The American team has the players it wants ... Who could complain? Perkins doesn't know who.

"So," he says. "I guess I'm representing Russia."