The Finnish men’s national basketball team is making its first World Cup appearance in the history of the completion, which dates to 1950, and only its third appearance in world competition – Finland has participated in two Olympics but none since 1964.
Finland, ranked No. 39 in FIBA World Rankings, finished a surprising ninth in EuroBasketball 2013 (5 wins-3 losses) and received a wild card invitation to the tournament. They throttled EuroBasketball 2013 hosts Slovenia 92-76 to finish off the competition. Slovenia is ranked No. 13 in the World by FIBA.
Head coach Henrik Dettmann wants Finland to play fast attractive basketball and they will not be afraid to pull the trigger from long range, especially Petteri Koponen and Mikko Koivisto.
Koponen is Finland’s most dangerous player overall. The 6-foot-4 point guard is very athletic and excels in transition and distributing the ball. He averaged 13.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.2 rebounds during the EuroBasketball Tournament.
Koponen was a first-round selection of the Philadelphia 76ers in 2007 and his rights are currently owned by the Dallas Mavericks. He currently plays in the Russian Super League.
Koivisto, who played at UNC Greensboro, is known as a shooter but struggled during EuroBasketball 2013 from long range – making only 8-of-26 shots from beyond the arc.
Finland also has others not afraid to launch shots: 6-foot-6 Shawn Huff (Valparaiso), who was Finland’s second during EuroBaketball, took more than half of his 64 shot from beyond the arc – he 29.4 percent of those shots; Sasu Slain, who could be dangerous if he gets going, hit multiple long-range bombs against Turkey, Slovenia, Italy and Russia during EuroBasket 2013.Antero Lehto, a 30-year old point guard playing for the national team for the first time, dazzled during the Finnish playoffs. He scored double-figures in all four Championship series games – including 21 in Game two and 23 in Game three – and knocked down 28-of-64 playoff three-point attempts (45.2 percent).
Cleveland Cavaliers 6-foot-8 smooth shooting forward Erik Murphy also won’t be shy of launching shots from long-distance. Murphy made his debut for Finland in a 90-81 defeat to Lithuania on Aug. 8, he had nine points and five rebounds.
Murphy appeared in 24 games for the Chicago Bulls last season and totaled six points in 26 minutes of action. Murphy was traded from the Utah Jazz to the Cavaliers on July 22.
Former Atlanta Hawk Hanno Mottola, 37, is past his prime but will be part of the Finnish frontcourt rotation. The Wolfpack will also rely on 6-foot-10 center Gerald Lee (Old Dominion) along with Tuukka Kotti and Kimmo Muurinen to bring toughness to man the low-post.
Finland opens World Cup play against the USA (Aug. 30) in Bilbao, then plays Ukraine (Aug. 31), Dominican Republic (Sept. 2), Turkey (Sept. 3) and New Zealand (Sept. 4).