CLEVELAND -- Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder spent the 2012-13 season away from the NBA working as the associate head coach under Ettore Messina for CSKA Moscow, a club team in Russia. He was a stranger in a foreign land and built a bond with Sasha Kaun, one of the team's big men. Kaun, now a back-up on the Cleveland Cavaliers, could appreciate his coach's plight, having been a fish out of water himself when he chose to leave Russia years earlier to attend college in America, winning the 2008 NCAA championship in his senior year at the University of Kansas.
They were back on the same court Tuesday, only on opposite sidelines, with the Cavs beating the Jazz 118-114. The occasion gave the pair reason to reflect on the season they spent together overseas.
"When I first heard about 'Q' signing in CSKA, I was a little bit doubtful because he was coming from Missouri and you know me, the Kansas boy," Kaun said with a laugh, referencing Synder's roots coaching the Tigers when they used to be in the Big 12 and would regularly play the Jayhawks. "Once we actually got to work together, we built a really good relationship. I think we had a good understanding."
The arrangement worked like this: Snyder would act as a buffer for Kaun in dealing with Messina, who was a living legend in European coaching circles and now serves as an assistant in San Antonio under Gregg Popovich.
"I think it was good because I could tell things to Q which he would then pass on further," Kaun said.
Kaun would repay Snyder's communication assist by helping to expand the coach's understanding of Russian culture, including its culinary options.
"He was great for me," Snyder said. "On a personal level, he took me out to dinner a couple times."
Snyder and Kaun would both bring their wives to the meals and get to know one another away from the court. The one rule: Kaun would have to order for the table.
Snyder was asked to recall what he ate. "Meat jello," Snyder said.
Yes, you read that right.
Kaun cracked up at the memory. He explained the meal is called "kholodets" in Russian, before going on to further describe the dish.
"It's a really weird thing," Kaun said (and I'm not sure if that was meant to be such an understatement by him or if it just got lost in translation). "There's gelatin used in it and they just boil pig legs for a really long time until you get a really nice piggy broth and then you just freeze it and it becomes jello-y. It's interesting, but I like it. It's really good. It's just weird."
A few years have passed since Snyder and Kaun were last together eating gelatinous swine. Now Snyder is in the second year of his first NBA head coaching gig while Kaun is a 30-year-old NBA rookie, the last man in the Cavs' rotation.
"I have a ton of respect for Sasha," Snyder said. "I think it was something he wanted to do eventually, to come back here and play in the NBA. And he's been ready to do this since I was in Russia with CSKA. He's the kind of guy you want on your team. He'll always be ready. Whether he's playing or not, he's the kind of guy that is going to be prepared and will find every way he can to help your team win. He's just a really respectable person."
While playing time has been hard to come by for Kaun -- he's averaged just 3.5 minutes in two appearances through Cleveland's first eight games -- avoiding the all the American fast food menu items just as heinous-sounding as "meat jello" hasn't been quite so difficult.
"My wife cooks a lot," Kaun said. "That's very helpful. She can still cook the same stuff and have the same diet, so it's been pretty easy."