Shulga will represent Ukraine at the FIBA U20 European Championship
PODGORICA, Montenegro — On February 26, Max Shulga, then a sophomore guard for the Utah State men’s basketball team, played in the game against Colorado State. As he walked into court, the HURD, the Utah State Student Union, waved yellow and blue cards creating a giant Ukrainian flag to show support for Shulga and the nation amid the crisis. invasion of Russia.
During this match, Shulga, from Ukraine, represented his home country in one of the darkest times in its history. Just two days earlier, the news shook the world that Russia had invaded Ukraine and thousands of people had had to flee the country to safety. While his friends and family were stuck in Ukraine, he played basketball for the Aggies in Logan, nearly 5,700 miles away.
Five months later, with the dispute still ongoing, Shulga represented Ukraine playing for the FIBA Europe U20 Championship men’s team.
“The best I can do for my country is to represent it in the European Championship,” Shulga said.
For Shulga, competing in “times like these” is more than playing basketball.
“It’s a different kind of feeling. After the announcers say your name, the anthem sounds and you sing along. You represent the whole country,” Shulga said. “I don’t even know how to explain it, you have to feel it for yourself. It’s so special.
Growing up in Europe, Shulga has already had the opportunity to compete at the European level which includes a mix of amateurs and professionals. Ukraine and Shulga will play in Division A, which will feature tougher competition.
“There are a lot of pros. The European Championship is divided into Division A and Division B, so all the top teams are in Division A,” Shulga said of the level of competition. “It’s really close to college and there are some really good players.”
In Europe, players are used to playing with a 24 second clock, similar to the NBA. In the NCAA, which Shulga has been accustomed to for two years, the clock difference leads to a different style of play.
“The focus is more on defense because of the difference in shot clocks. You could say it’s faster. By the time you cross the half court, you only have 15 seconds instead of 24 in middle school,” Shulga said. “The pace of the game is much faster.”
In two seasons with Utah State, Shulga played 55 career games and started in two. Last season, he saw his minutes go from 6.8 to 13.7 per game. Not only has his minutes increased, but his scoring average has gone from 1.6 to 4.4 points per game.
In one of his two starts, Shulga wasted 18 points, caught seven boards, three assists, two interceptions and missed just two shots on eight attempts in 28 minutes, propelling the Aggies to an 81-62 victory over Portland State.
Playing overseas gives Shulga a chance to practice more as he prepares for the 2022-23 college basketball season.
“We practiced a lot. Sessions of two hours a day, with rest days in the middle of course. Back in Utah State, we can only do about an hour a day four days a week,” Shulga said. “There is no limit of hours that we can practice. We only have one month to prepare, we have to integrate a lot of things. Not a lot of time to work on individual things during training, so you do it before and after training. Training is for team stuff, it’s for improvement. That’s the whole story.”
Ukraine will compete in Group C consisting of the Czech Republic, Spain and Lithuania.
“It’s a very tough group,” Shulga said. “But there are no easy groups in Division A. Spain and Lithuania are big names, very talented players. But if we are competitive and never give up, we can do anything.
Shulga and Ukraine will open the pool game on Saturday July 16 against the Czech Republic at 6:15 MDT. The entire tournament can be viewed on YouTube with links to streams on the FIBA website.