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Basketball is not a sport you would commonly associate with Finland. Ice hockey is the Nordic country’s sport of choice. Despite its somewhat niche popularity in the country, Finnish players and teams are rarely mentioned in professional or international circles. But one rising Finnish star is making a name both for himself and Finnish basketball.
Twenty-year-old Lauri Markkanen is from Jyväskylä in central Finland and belongs to a highly competitive sporting family. His parents Pekka and Riikka Markkanen are both former professional basketball players, his father previously playing for the Finnish national team. His younger brother Eero is a professional soccer player, playing for the Swedish AIK and the Finnish national team, and his youngest brother Miikka was also a basketball player before retiring due to injuries. As such, Lauri became addicted to basketball at a young age, so much in fact that his parents had to restrict the number of hours he spent playing every day. It still didn’t stop him from getting in four or five hours of daily practice from the age of ten.
This supportive background coupled with Markkanen’s impressive seven-foot height made him a born basketball player. After attending the Helsinki Basketball Academy and becoming a rising star in Finnish basketball, he began playing professionally in 2014 at the age of 17, initially playing for HBA-Märsky. In 2015, he made his international debut by playing for the Finnish U-18 team at the 2015 FIBA Europe U-18 Championship.
After his professional debut, Markkanen’s first big achievement was being the top scorer at the 2016 FIBA Europe Under-20 Championship, with an average of 24.9 points each game.
This was followed up in 2017 when he caught the eye of the US college basketball circuit after playing for Arizona, appearing on multiple watch lists and ‘player of the week’ awards. He was described by Draft Express as ‘among the most efficient offensive players in the country’. In the 2017 NBA draft, he was picked up by the Chicago Bulls.
Finland’s small population and preference for winter sports hasn’t spawned many basketball players on the international scene. So far, only two Finnish players have joined the NBA; Erik Murphey, who was also drafted by the Chicago Bulls, and Hanno Mottola, who was one of Markkanen’s coaches during his training.
Markkanen may well improve Finland’s visibility in international basketball and encourage more Finnish players to pursue a professional career. The country’s strict standards, not just in sports but in all aspects of life, could potentially create many top basketball stars. Markkanen has already made a good start in beginning this trend, destined for popularity both in Finland and the US.