MAD PROPS FOR MAD HOPS: Denis Zhukov is Canadian Interuniversity Sport’s Volleyball Player of the Year.
Aaron Whitfield/The Gauntlet

Kazakh phenom best in the land

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Denis Zhukov's amazing story just gained another ripple. On Feb. 27, the third-year Dino was named the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Men's Volleyball Player of the Year in conjunction with the 2001/02 national championships in Edmonton.

"It's pretty funny," mused Zhukov, who plays internationally for Kazakhstan. "The trophy says CIS Player of the Year. CIS also stands for the Commonwealth of Independent States, my former country."

To those who've seen him demolish a volleyball, Zhukov's latest accolade comes as no surprise. The Dinos right side hitter is only in his third-year with the team but he is already among the best to ever don the Calgary uniform. His explosive six-foot-five frame is the Dinos' best offensive weapon as the 25-year-old can hit from anywhere on the
court. When asked how his teammates reacted to the award you could almost see the grin on
the other end of the telephone line.

"They screamed a lot," he chuckled. "They gave me their congratulations."

The Almaty, Kazakhstan native put his skills to good use this season leading the league with 4.36 kills per game at an impressive 36.6 per cent efficiency.

Zhukov has been outstanding down the stretch when the Dinos started to come together for a playoff run that eventually earned them a berth at the nationals.

"It'll be tough now," he said. "I have to prove I deserve it."

Zhukov's career in Calgary has been amazing thus far. He certainly took the road less travelled when he joined the Dinos in the 1999/2000 season. He found the University of Calgary on the Internet and had to work out his entrance to the U of C through a law firm.

When he finally arrived in August of 1999, he made an immediate impact as a rookie. He has been a conference all-star in each of his three seasons, and his performance has improved with each passing year.

Zhukov is a pre-management student at the U of C, and he laughed that giving the acceptance speech in front of the crowd at the University of Alberta's Myer Horowitz Theatre was good practise for his business communications class.

"It was like a business presentation," said the modest star. "I just said some stupid stuff."