Our Finnish sportswriting friend sat down with Petteri Koponen before the young PG embarked on his journey to the states. Enjoy!
COMING TO AMERICA: PETTERI KOPONEN ARRIVES AT PORTLAND THIS SUNDAY
Never too busy to catch up with up and coming Finnish point guard talent Petteri Koponen.
Petteri, also known as Troy of “High School Musical”, ended his last season in Finnish League averaging stable 18,4 points, 4,1 assists, 3,3 rebounds and 1,8 steals a game while draining .565 of 2pt shots, .434 of 3pt shots and .779 of his free throws. The numbers and Honka Playboys’ second consecutive championship were enough for Koponen to get the Finnish League MVP award despite just turning 20 years old.
In the playoffs, Koponen missed a grand total of four games because of a broken thumb. In the deciding game 4 of the finals, Koponen played last 8:30 of fourth quarter with his finger wrapped and delivered three assists in Honka Playboys 72-71 victory which sealed second straight championship for the club.
Koponen is flying from Helsinki to Portland this Sunday with his coach, Mr. Mihailo Pavicevic, to work out for the Portland Trailblazers and to get prepared for the Las Vegas Summer League. Here’s a quick Q&A with Koponen just a couple of days before his departure.
How’s your thumb now, Petteri? Has it healed in schedule?
PK: There’s no problem anymore. I went to see the doctor two weeks ago and although the bone wasn’t fully healed, the doctor said it is just as strong as a fully healed thumb. I have been feeling healthy and strong after the finals.
Your doctor said you definitely couldn’t play with a broken thumb but you made a cameo in deciding final anyway. It must have been hard being sidelined but I guess you were fully conscious that playing with a broken thumb was a risk for your professional career?
PK: It must have been the hardest two week period in my life. Just knowing that these are the most meaningful games of the season and not getting to play… oh, man. In the first game of the finals I was standing up and shouting all the time, trying to catch the tempo of the game. In the 3rd quarter, officials came to me and said that if I wouldn’t shut up, they would give me a technical. But I just couldn’t help it, it killed me when I wasn’t able to be out there (laughter).
Of course I know it would be a risk to play but the players of Kouvot (Honka’s final opponent) were true gentlemen. They asked how’s my thumb and no one tried to hurt it on purpose. By that time, we were sure with coach Pavicevic that I wouldn’t play again in the remaining games and we had already begun offseason practice. Kouvot point guard Wayne Bernard kept trying to drive against me because my legs were strongly affected because of my two week absence from team practice… luckily we were able to stand strong in the end and get the championship.
How have you been practicing since the end of the season? You seem to be in good shape.
PK: After the championship, we had a one-week break, but since then I’ve been practicing twice a day with coach Pavicevic. My goal has been to increase my stamina and get my running shape back so that I can compete with those big, strong guards of Las Vegas summer league.
You’re returning to Portland this Sunday. What’s your timetable like over there?
PK: Well, first I’m meeting with Portland’s manager and coaching staff. They want to see how I have progressed throughout the season. Probably I’ll also be there participating in some pre-draft workout sessions and I also heard that some of the Blazers’ players will be back days before the draft.
Once the draft is over, we’ll gather our summer roster and get prepared for Las Vegas.
Last summer you didn’t really get that much playing time in the summer league and for the first two games, you didn’t get a chance to play point guard. What are your expectations from this season’s Vegas showdown?
PK: I have been promised that I’ll definitely get more playing time now than last season. I think I was a little awestruck because of the athleticism of the guys in Vegas a year ago but now I’ll know what to expect. Coach McMillan expects me to be determined and focused from the tip off of the first summer league game and I want to fulfill his expectations.
Portland Trailblazers already made their first move of the off-season, acquiring Spanish up and coming shooting guard phenom Rudy Fernandez. Do you think the acquisition of Fernandez will affect you?
PK: Cracking into an actual NBA rotation is never easy. By adding Fernandez, the Blazers showed they want to be one of the better teams of the next decade. I think that was a brilliant move by the organization. They already have some of the future NBA stars in Greg Oden, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge and Fernandez is surely the kind of talent they wanted to sign ASAP.
If you ask does adding Fernandez make it harder for me to get into rotation, I don’t really think so. I am a pure point guard while Rudy plays positions 2 and 3. Blazers are loaded with point guards right now with Steve Blake, Jarrett Jack, Sergio Rodriguez and Taurean Green and it seems they want to acquire a veteran point guard as well, but these are the kind of things I can’t affect. I just have to get out there, play hard, play smart and assure the coach that I can bring something to this team that they need.
Do you have a plan B if you can’t get a job from Portland Trailblazers? Experts still seem to think you would need some seasoning against better opponents. Finnish League isn’t too bad, but it still is far away from the league Rudy Fernandez has been playing in.
PK: Right now I’ll just put my focus on summer league. Then we’ll see what happens. NBA is a big business and like I said, I can’t prepare myself for everything, I just have to keep my head high. There could be trades brewing, I don’t know. Right now I’ll have to believe I’ll play with Portland Trailblazers in 2008/2009.
It is for sure that I have played my last season in Finland for a long time. I’ve spoken with coach over and over again about the subject and there isn’t much more Finnish league could give to me. I have to play against better opponents and participate in better games. But my main goal is to be the second Finnish player in the NBA ever. If I sign a contract with a European team, I have to get a contract which my potential NBA employer could buy out if possible. Anyway, no matter which team I play with in 2008/2009, I’ll do whatever it takes to improve and make my team better.
Thanks for your time, Petteri. Have a great flight and show the guys in Vegas what you’re made of!
PK: Always a pleasure. Thanks.