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Basketball: Finland hit Italy, France with Möttölä bolt

2009-06-05 13:51:00

04/06/2009, VANTAA (EuroBasket 2009) – Italy and France have been put on notice by Finland that nothing is going to come easy this summer in the Additional Qualifying Round for EuroBasket 2009 following the decision by veteran big man Hanno Möttölä to end his brief retirement and play basketball again.

The 32-year-old Möttölä announced after last year’s Division A campaign that he was calling it quits with the desire to spend more time with his family one motivation to stop playing.

But after a long break, 2.09m power forward began to have second thoughts and at a press conference held at the Energia Arena in Vantaa, the home of the Finnish national team, Möttölä revealed he had been working out with his personal and national team physical trainer, Jussi Hirvonen.

"There's no drama related to my decision,” Möttölä said.

“Nine months ago, I felt absolutely exhausted and empty, and I didn't have the joy and motivation my body needs for full time training.

“Now I’ve had the opportunity to get the mental and physical break I needed, and during the winter my desire and motivation came back.

“When I realized that the desire didn't go away, there was no need to resist.

"I wouldn't consider this a comeback. This is more like a next stage of my career. Although running track and lifting weights is entirely different than being in basketball shape, my physical capabilities are much better than during last summer or season before that."

Those last comments will be heard in Rome, and Paris, with Italy coach Carlo Recalcati and France boss Vincent Collet both knowing they will have to contend with a very dangerous Finnish national side.

Point guard Teemu Rannikko was injured last summer and couldn’t play but he is now fit and raring to go, as well as Virtus Bologna’s exciting young guard Petteri Koponen, whose NBA draft rights are owned by the Portland Trail Blazers.

"Of course it is a big thing to measure ourselves against teams like Italy and France, but even if we weren't in the qualifications, I would still have come back,” Möttölä said.

“Desire to win, the joy, the passion – everything is back and that’s the main thing. Anyway, it is much more pleasant to play realizing that we have to go full speed ahead from the beginning.”

Both France and Italy will have prominent players in the NBA in their squads, and Möttölä knows he will have his hands full underneath the basket.

"It is true that we will be the underdogs heading to these games,” he said. “Then again, we are very ready as a team. We've had the same core for years now.

“When training camp begins, everybody knows from the beginning what we ought to be doing. In the end, we have to be tougher as a team than five individuals in the opposing teams."

Möttölä’s return to the game has added to a huge buzz already in Finland.

He became the third top Finnish athlete to come out of retirement with world champion ski-jumper Janne Ahonen and Rally World Champion Marcus Grönholm also returning to sport in the last three months.

Both sent their regards to Möttölä at his press conference.

“If the older guys still are able to do it, us younger ones have nothing to worry about,” said Ahonen, who is a year younger than Möttölä . “Batteries are obviously charged and it’s time to go again. Good luck – I know you are going to need it.”

Grönholm said: “Retirement ain’t easy. It’s hard to stay away from something, if you love it.”

Experience is vital for national teams and Möttölä has it in abundance. He made his debut at the EuroBasket in 1995 under coach Henrik Dettmann, who was in his first spell as coach of the national team, and went on to play for the national team 100 times.

Möttölä was the first-ever Finn to reach the NBA and he was also the first from his country in the Euroleague, not to mention the first Finland player to compete in that competition’s Final Four.

A record eight times Möttölä was voted Basketball Player of the Year in Finland.

Even before his professional days, Möttölä raised eyebrows in America.

He played college basketball at Utah under Rick Majerus and in 1998 reached the NCAA Final Four, even making it to the title game.

Möttölä made four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with Utah.

Möttölä averaged 11.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last summer in EuroBasket Division A.

(Credit: FIBA)

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