As a seventh grader, Egor Koulechov quit his soccer team in Volgograd, Russia. His family had moved to a new house, and without a car, practice was too far away. Forced to pick a new sport, Koulechov simply chose the closest available option. That day, the future Conference USA star began his basketball career.

Koulechov’s basketball career was taken to the next level when his family moved to Israel and he joined the under 18 national team. Then, he spent a year at Arizona State before transferring to Rice in 2014. Now in his second year of playing for Rice, Koulechov has helped to transform the men’s basketball team into legitimate contenders. He leads the team in points and rebounds, while ranking fourth and third respectively in Conference USA, with 19.2 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game.

Koulechov has certainly had his share of memorable moments as an Owl, but none have been sweeter than the Dec. 19, 2015 matchup at the University of New Mexico. In a game that went down the wire, the former Israeli National Team member saved his best for crunch time, scoring 24 of his 32 points in the second half to erase a 17 point deficit. With 0.1 seconds left, Koulechov sealed the deal by draining a free throw to complete the upset. He said he felt the game was more than just a win, as the team showed mental toughness in the victory.

“We just showed what we were capable of,” Koulechov said. “We were a young team, and coming back from that 17-point deficit was a great experience. Things just seemed to click.”

His play has continued to improve — the former Sun Devil is averaging 21.5 points per game on 45.2 percent shooting to go along with 12 rebounds in his last six games. Koulechov said he attributes his play to teammates and coaches.

“My teammates and coaches are so important,” Koulechov said. “As a team, we’re improving our game. As everybody gets better, I get open looks and better shots.”

Koulechov has fit in nicely with the team since transferring from Arizona State , and he said he feels his relationship with his teammates is like a family.

“Everybody on the team is tight,” Koulechov said. “There’s a good feel. Sometimes, it doesn’t always translate as well on the court, and we’re upset about it because we love each other.”

Koulechov said he also maintains a great relationship with Mike Rhoades, the third-year head coach of the Owls.

“Since I got here, he’s done nothing but look out for us and take care of the guys on the team,” Koulechov said. “I appreciate it a lot and I respect him a lot.”

This season, Koulechov has excelled at getting to the rim, converting numerous layups and the occasional dunk. Of course, every basketball player can remember the first time he or she dunked: For Koulechov, the memorable occurred at a game in the seventh grade.

“But I didn’t dunk again until the 10th grade,” Koulechov said. “I think the rim was lower or something in that game.”

Off the court, Koulechov’s favorite movie is “Big Daddy” featuring Adam Sandler, his celebrity crush is Katy Perry and his favorite video game is Madden. Koulechov said that he always plays with the same team.

“The Dolphins,” Koulechov said. “They’re my squad.”

As for the funniest player on the team, Koulechov said the title goes to junior guard Bishop Mency.

“He’s a little bit messed up in the head,” Koulechov said. “I live with him.”

If he couldn’t play basketball, Koulechov didn’t hesitate to say he’d play soccer. His pump-up songs differ, but Russian music and Jason Derulo were both top choices.

With over half of the season complete, the Oklahoma City Thunder fan is looking to help guide the Owls to a conference championship and an NCAA tournament berth. According to Koulechov, the team needs to get better at closing games.

“We [have to] work hard in practice every day,” Koulechov said. “Some of the guys have to step up. Some guys have to mature quicker. [We have to] close out those close games because they’ve been hurting us. The difference has been communication, execution, and maturity. We’re 3-4 but could easily be 5-2.”