North Carolina, Arizona could be next stop for Finland’s latest NBA hopeful

The Nordic countries in the northern portion of Europe are among the few regions left around the world that haven’t yet had an influx of professional basketball talent to America.

Finland’s Lauri Markkanen is trying to change that.

Due to its cold weather, Finland devotes most of its resources to the development of hockey programs or other winter sports. Because of that, there has only been one Finnish-born player in the NBA’s history (Hanno Möttölä, who played for Atlanta from 2000-02).

But that hasn’t deterred Markkanen, who will pass on playing professionally next season and instead likely head to North Carolina, Arizona, or Utah. The 6-11, 220-pound 18-year-old developed his game despite the ice and snow in his native country.

“I would shoot and work on my game in my back yard even though it was minus-30 (degrees celsius).”

Wait, what?

“I didn’t have a chance to go to an inside court,” he said. “It’s not bad if you’re wearing a lot of clothes.”

Such is life in northern European counties, where if one wants to improve at basketball when young, they have to go outside and do their thing in temperatures that would have most high schools or colleges canceling class due to the frigid temperatures.

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Markkanen, currently in the United States visiting the three aforementioned schools, is like many basketball prodigies. Attending the Helsinki Basketball Academy, his life is a bit more focused on the game than elite prospects in the states. For instance, a typical day involves both a morning and an afternoon session of basketball, plus his team competes in the second division of Finnish basketball against other professionals. But mostly, he’s still just a quiet kid that’s singularly focused on achieving the best possible career for himself.

“His work ethic and ability to learn are the main things,” said Antti Koskelainen, head coach at the Helsinki Basketball Academy. “He’s a quick learner, very coachable. Hard-working guy.”

Markkanen is one of those stretch-4s that the NBA is looking for all around the world. He can score from all over the floor — including from 3 — get out in transition, and also defend. Just watch what he did this summer at the U18 European Championships, where he averaged 18.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on 53.9 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent shooting from byond the 3-point line.