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Finland U18 Preview

July 20th, 2011 · No Comments

Tomorrow starts the U18 European Championship of Division A in Wroclaw. When Serbia, Spain or the hosts are generally considered as favorites, the Finnish team wants to be more than just an underdog and save their spot in Division A during the next 10 days. Hippo presents the U18 Team from his home country.

(Hippo) Finland’s U18 team earned their promotion to Division A last summer, when coach Gordon Herbert’s rugrats pinched Israel in the semifinals after several hard-fought victories. The team was built around the 1992 generation, who are currently finishing their U20 Division B games in Sarajevo. Now, the team has been gathered together from 1993 and 1994 born, and the composition of the team is totally different from last year.

In 2010, Finland U18 team was a collection of hard-working blue collar guys. This group has (a lot) more individual talent, but then again, the preparation period has been difficult: the team finished last in June’s Nordic Championship games and has won a grand total of three out of eight games this summer. Despite some struggles, Finland played very well against tough France team only a week before the games and showed that they are able to compete against the best teams in Europe.

The team is coached by Pekka Salminen, Finnish men’s national team assistant coach and two-time Swedish champion (Solna Vikings 2003 & 2008).

Here’s a quick look of the key players and biggest international prospects of the team.

JOONAS CAVÉN – 2m11– 1993 – Small Forward – Tampereen Pyrintö

Cavén has the whole package: he’s probably the most talented big man Finland has produced since Hanno Möttölä. Despite his height, Cavén is most comfortable at small forward. He plays like a product of Lithuanian basketball academy: he runs the floor like a guard, plays well on and off the ball, is a very good passer and can shoot the lights out. He can beat his guy both facing the basket and back against the hoop. When he wants, he also plays defense with the best of them with his long arms, good timing, speed and footwork.

Cavén lacks size and strength and right now he’s not really strong enough to defend post players or set picks. Of course, strength issues will vanish in a year or two, but the biggest challenge for Cavén right now is his entry in men’s competitions. So far, Cavén has only seen limited minutes of Finnish League action and he has dominated junior league games against inferior players with ease. He can get frustrated when his shots aren’t falling or when his defender is roughing him up, and he must learn a way to cope with toughening defenses. Despite these cons, it must be stated that Cavén has the potential to become a Euroleague level key player.

IIKKA MÄKI – 1m95 – 1994 – Point Huard – Manresa (ESP)

Three consecutive summers of injuries have postponed Mäki’s national team entrances, but right now Mäki is ready to go. Mäki almost made it to Finland’s U16 roster when being only 14 years old, which tells something about maturity of this young player.

Mäki can play positions 1-3 effectively, thanks to his size, mobility and very high basketball IQ. He might seem invisible on the court since he’s not exactly a flashy player, but he does almost everything well – not superb, but well. While you probably won’t see him taking big shots, he provides the kind of intangibles every coach needs. In 2010/11, Mäki was seasoned by Spanish ACB team Suzuki Manresa’s junior academy.

DANIEL DOLENC – 2m05 – 1993 – Center – Espoon Honka Playboys

Dolenc is a classic low post center, and the most reliable low post finisher Finnish junior national teams have had since Gerald Lee (born in 1987). Dolenc has an array of low post moves and he’s not afraid of taking (or giving) contact. While he didn’t play much with Honka Playboys in Finnish league in 2010/11, the year made him mentally and physically tougher and he’s expected to play rotation minutes next year. Dolenc is a bit foul prone and his defense and footwork need to be improved, but make no mistake: he is a name to remember.

KALLE NAAPI – 1m87 – 1993 – Guard – Tapiolan Honka
ILARI SEPPÄLÄ – 1m90 – 1993 – Guard – Kouvolan Kouvot
NIKO MATTILA – 1m86 – 1994 – Guard – Tampereen Pyrintö

These three guards are all vital to their team, but right now I can’t tell who has the biggest upside. Ilari Seppälä is a strong, athletic 2-guard with a good shot and probably the most ready player of the group right now. Naapi and Mattila are raw, but thanks to their high basketball IQ, they pick things up easily and are very effective on both ends of the court. It’ll be interesting to see how these three will perform in Division A surroundings.

Here’s the full roster of Finnish u18 national team:

  • Ville Puotila – PG – 1m80 – 1993
  • Kalle Naapi – G – 1m87 – 1993
  • Niko Mattila – G – 1m86 – 1994
  • Ilari Seppälä – G – 1m90 – 1993
  • Visa Tarjanne – SF – 1m92 – 1993
  • Iikka Mäki – G – 1m95 – 1994
  • Mikael Kauhanen – PF – 2m00 – 1994
  • Jere Luoma – C – 2m01 – 1993
  • Joonas Cavén – SF – 2m11 – 1993
  • Tommi Huolila – PF – 1m98 – 1993
  • Mika Nuolivirta – C – 2m11 – 1994
  • Daniel Dolenc – C – 2m05 – 1993

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