By Jeff Taylor
|Sten is aware that Finland are the outsiders in the Additional Qualifying Tournament, but she sees this as a challenge. The 25-year-old center was Finland's leading scorer in last year's unsuccesful qualifying campaign, with 13.4 ppg|
There'd be no better way for Tiina Sten to celebrate her 26th birthday than by playing against Spain on June 18 at the EuroBasket Women In Katowice, Poland.
That opportunity will be afforded to the national team that wins the Additional Qualifying Tournament (AQt) and Sten's Finland are among 10 sides that will be trying to do just that.
The Finns will be in Group A of the AQT with Ukraine, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Netherlands.
They must top that pool and then win a two-game tie against the national side that finishes top of Group B (Italy, Germany, Romania, Serbia and Belgium).
Finland, however, may be the biggest of the outsiders heading into the additional qualifiers after falling in all eight of their Division A games last year.
Playing at a EuroBasket Women isn't something Finland have done since 1987 in Cadiz, Spain, when Sten was just two years old.
But getting to the Final Round, be it this summer or in the years to come, is the aim of Finns.
Sten believes the potential is there.
"Yes I believe so, and that must be our goal," Sten says to Basketball World News.
"We can't fight the big basketball countries in the number of players, but in the quality of work and having a lot of heart.
"Our men's national team has already proven this by beating some big countries the last couple of years. Now it's our challenge to do the same.
"There's young talented players growing up so we just need to keep working hard and smart, and set the right culture for future success."
Never A Doubt
If you hear the name Sten and Finland in basketball conversation, it may sound familiar.
Sten comes from good basketball stock, with her father Tapio having represented the national team of Finland at the 1977 EuroBasket.
He wasn't just any player, either.
Tapio Sten was the last Finnish-born scoring leader of the Finnish top flight at 34.9 points per game with Turku NMKY in the 1979-80 campaign.
Tiina's siblings are also in the sport.
Her brother is national team guard Juha Sten while her youngster sister, Minna, is a teammate of Tiina's in the women's national side.
"My father was a basketball player and actually everyone in my family has played at a national team level, so I pretty much grew up around the sport," she says.
"As a kid, I wasn't so into it, though.
"I was more interested in other things and didn't want to play.
"But after trying everything else, from horse riding to ballet dancing, when I was about 10 years old I gave up and went to basketball practice, and here I am today."
Sten left her native land for America after high school, at 18 years of age, and enrolled at St John's University in New York.
She then returned to Europe and spent a couple of years in Spain's Liga Femenina before moving to Greece for the 2010-11 campaign.
Competing in Spain, at first Gran Canaria and then Mann Filter Zaragoza in her first two years as a professional were great opportunities.
"I feel that I was really lucky to get in to a top league like the Liga Femenina straight after college, especially for the two years there also playing in the EuroCup (Women)," Sten says.
"For sure my time in Spain changed my game and made me better, and also made me understand what I must do, too, and what qualities I must use and develop to be able to compete on that level.
"I was young and hungry and learning a lot because of the high level of games and also because of good coaching and high-level practices in Gran Canaria and in Zaragoza."
Sten doesn't hesitate when asked about the biggest influences on her life.
"Without a question my family," she says, "in sports and in other aspects of life even more.
"I've always looked up to my father and brother as players and wanting to be like them.
"They inspire me.
"My family has always encouraged and supported me in everything I do and also kept me on the right track.
"From them, I've learned the work ethic and values I try to live by."
Exactly what does Sten do when she's not playing the game?
"I'd say outside basketball I do normal things that any other 25-year-old young woman would," she says.
"Because I'm away from Finland so much, when I'm there I naturally spend a lot of time with my friends and family.
"Here in Athens, on a day off, it's highly likely to find me at the beach."
One thing is for certain about this summer for Sten.
She will not have to worry about being out of shape once the national team gathers.
The AQR tips off at the beginning of June.
She will have to quickly change gears because there won't be any break from the time the Greek season with Panionios ends before the start of national team training.
Some might say moving from one team to another so quickly would be tough.
"I wouldn't say tough but different for sure, because the preparation time for the whole team will be much shorter since the games start early June," Sten says.
"In my case, the Greek play-offs start in May so if we make it there, it's hard to say when I will be able to join the team.
"But it is the same situation for everyone and on the other side, players are in a good shape after their seasons so when starting the preparation, we can focus only on the crucial things.
"I believe it will be a great challenge for us, and with some of the older players coming back to the team and also some interesting new faces, we will be stronger than last summer."
The beauty of the national team is that not only are players united with the desire to represent their country.
They are having a reunion, too.
"It is always an honor to represent your country, and for us being small country, I believe we take even a little more pride in it," Sten says.
"Many of the girls I've played with for many years and have become really good friends with, so it's always fun to get together on the national team.
"Also my sister plays on the team so it is nice to be around her after being far away from each other.
"We have a good atmosphere and good people involved, and always do our best to represent Finland."