From Division B to Top 8 in Europe: Finnish veterans leave national team in good hands

Jonas Miklovas
Editor-In-Chief
2022-09-14 07:50

Shawn Huff, 38, and Petteri Koponen, 34, both played their last game for a Finnish national team.

Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

Head coach Lassi Tuovi was still a teenager when Shawn Huff made his national team debut. It was back in 2005, September and Finland was playing in EuroBasket, Division B.

"We tried to qualify for a chance to qualify for the championship," Huff smiled when he recalled this story after his last national team game.

To say things have changed for Finns would be quite an understatement.

Petteri Koponen

Petteri  Koponen
Position: PG
Age: 34
Height: 194 cm
Weight: 88 kg
Birth place: Finland

On Tuesday, they lost to Spain, 90-100, in the Eurobasket quarterfinals. Nevertheless, a Top 8 finish was the best achievement in Finland's basketball history.

"I'm so happy about where Finnish basketball has arrived. When I came, we were in Division B, and now we are in Top 8, and the future looks pretty bright," veteran guard Petteri Koponen said.

Huff, 38, and Koponen, 34, both played their last game for a national team. Following the match, they were presented with basketballs and later recalled their team's path.

Credit FIBA

"Young guys on this team don't remember when we, me and Petteri, used to play in B division," Huff said. "Young guys don't remember that, so when they come here, they are already hungry for more."

"Younger guys in Finland see that you can achieve something through basketball," Koponen said. "Maybe more and more kids will start to play, and that's the biggest thing."

Koponen played his first game for Finland in 2006 September 3, exactly one year later than Huff. They both went through the ranks of Division B basketball and advanced to the main EuroBasket in 2009.

Since then, Finland has been to every EuroBasket but never advanced to the quarterfinals. This year it changed.

Finland finished second in Group D and then eliminated Croatia in the Round of 16.

Credit FIBA

"We have better players. I think that's the simple answer," Huff explained. "You build a culture - it starts with conditions, coaching, staff. And you build a culture of practice, togetherness, winning. You get hungry when you start winning."

Finland's head coach, Tuovi, 35, was the youngest coach at this year's Eurobasket.

Being the youngest is something that he is quite used to. He started his coaching career at 18 when a knee injury ended his basketball career. At 24, he became the youngest head coach in the Finnish basketball league ever.

At the EuroBasket, he was younger than his captain, Huff.

"At least I look older," the coach joked.

"Don't know about that," Huff responded, drawing laughs throughout the press conference room.

"Having a captain like this (Huff) and a veteran like Koponen and being able to coach their last game... It's an honor," Tuovi said.

Huff and Koponen called it quits, but they might not go too far from basketball. For example, their former teammates Hanno Mottola and Teemu Ranniko are now assistant coaches for Tuovi.

"It's been a great journey, but physically I cannot play anymore. And even now, to be here, I had to work so hard," Koponen admitted. "I am very thankful I could be a part of this team and enjoy the last EuroBasket. But now it's time to do something other than basketball."

"For sure, I'm going to miss all these moments. Maybe now it's time to do some other things in life and enjoy those, but you will see me in some things in basketball in the future," Koponen concluded.



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