The precedent for Finnish-born players in the NBA is nearly non-existent, while 199 hockey players from Finland have skated at the NHL level. But right now, there’s more Fins on the Chicago Bulls than on the Chicago Blackhawks.
How and why did Lauri Markkanen spend his youth off skates and instead become really good at basketball? A feature story from TheScore.com writer Alex Wong provides insider information into Markkanen’s journey from Finland prodigy, to University of Arizona star, to budding NBA star. The story is fantastic, definitely check it out.
In it you learn about Hanno Mottola, who’s been instrumental in shaping Markkanen into the 7-foot freak of nature that has terrorized NBA defenses through his first 14 games of his rookie season. Mottola was the first Finnish-born player who made the NBA, a 6-foot-11-inch big that the Atlanta Hawks selected at No. 40 in the 2000 NBA draft. He lasted two seasons in the NBA, averaging 4.6 points and 2.9 rebounds per game.
There’s some more good anecdotes in the article, and it overall provides some insight into the more human side of Markkanen’s personality.
Markkanen’s work ethic ironically may be Jimmy Butler approved.
When you ask teammates and coaches about Markkanen, the first thing they'll tell you about is his work ethic.
Joe Pasternack is the head coach of the men's basketball program at UC Santa Barbara. As the associate head coach at Arizona last season, he worked closely with Markkanen.
When Pekka arrived on campus to visit his son last season, he had to wait 45 minutes after practice was over before Pasternack finally told Markkanen to wrap up his shooting drills so he could go have dinner with his father.
There’s also this interesting bit from Mottola and his guidance in what makes it in the NBA.
"I wasn't nearly selfish enough," he said. "For four years at Utah, I was taught what a good shot was. When I got to the NBA, I realized the only bad shot was the one you didn't take. It's a team sport, but everybody is trying to get theirs, trying to get their next contract.
"It's a nice thought to say that everyone plays for the team and no one looks at their own stats, but we all know that's not the reality."
It's why Mottola has told Markkanen to keep looking for his own shot. It's not selfish, he explains, it's about making the most of your opportunity in the league.
Markkanen is seventh on the Bulls in shot attempts per 100 possessions. Of course, this number isn’t indicative of his aggressiveness because of the well-publicized ineptness of the Bulls point guards at getting him shots this season. When he does have the ball, Markkanen has looked fearless shooting from all spots on the floor, as it looks like he has taken Mottola’s advice to heart.
Markkanen is well on his way to putting Finland on the basketball map, even though he is just the second Finnish-born player to make it to the NBA.
He will look to defy the odds, just like he and every other Fin did when they actually learned how to speak what may be the hardest language in the world to learn.