|Hanno Möttölä is enjoying his role as Finland's leader and believes Salin has all it takes to make a name for himself|
By Paul Nilsen
Separated by an age difference of some 15 years, Hanno Mottola and Sasu Salin are at polar opposites of their respective careers.
The former is the definitive Finnish basketball legend now in the twilight of his playing days while the latter is one of several rising stars potentially capable of taking the national team to the next level.
However, for ex-NBA man Mottola, EuroBasket 2011 doesn't necessarily represent a wholesale passing of the baton to the next generation just yet.
In fact, even dare to mention the ‘R-word' (namely retirement) and you can expect something of a mildly indignant response.
"I am not thinking about ending my career here." said Mottola.
"I am feeling great and my body is in really good shape so I am 100% ready to help the team any way possible. My role as the oldest and the most experienced player is to help and support younger guys and be a leader on and off the court."
One of the players who is reaping the rewards of learning from the Finnish sporting icon is Salin, someone Mottola firmly believes has a terrific career ahead of him for both club and country.
"We had so many injuries to key players last summer during qualifying that it opened up a chance for guys like Sasu to jump in and play real minutes for the team and get great experience for this summer," he explained.
"I really believe he can take that next step and become a real household name in European basketball. Sasu is still very young but is in a great situation in Ljubljana to learn the game and get better."
Not surprisingly, Salin appreciates having someone of Mottola's calibre around as he tries to live up to the recent hype.
He has rocketed to prominence during an extraordinary 18 months during which he has stepped out with Union Olimpija Ljubljana in Euroleague and also established himself in the Finnish team.
"It's great we have such an accomplished and world-class player on the team," Salin said of Mottola.
"He probably doesn't want to be seen as a father figure but with his experience, he naturally is one.
"Otherwise Hanno is just a guy with the rest of us. He is a team player trying to help the team. Just like everyone else.
"A whole lot has happened in a short period of time for me personally. It's all been great, but it's really hard to stop and go into it in too much depth when I am focusing on the moment.
"It was a long season with ups and downs. We were able reach Top 16 in Euroleague, which nobody expected from us but were not able to win the Slovenian or Adriatic league titles and this was disappointing.
"I really enjoyed playing regular minutes in tough competitions. It was a good learning experience nevertheless. The next challenge is to earn regular playing time and use them to help the team best way I can."
When it comes to EuroBasket Final Round, Finland has not exactly been a regular attendee, having languished in the old second tier of European basketball.
Consequently, Mottola is adamant they need to cherish the moment and ensure they become a regular at future tournaments.
"We were stuck in the old Division B for many years for various reasons which was very frustrating to say the least," he recalled.
"It just shows how good the competition around Europe is and I really believe that those experiences playing in Division B has made this team more hungry and appreciative of the current situation that we find ourselves in.
"It's crucial for Finland to be able to compete for a EuroBasket tournament spot every time. That way, the basketball culture and fan-base can grow in Finland."
To deliver against such an objective in the future means Salin and Co taking the initiative but also savouring the present situation, something which isn't lost on the appreciative 20-year-old.
"For the younger generation of players, it's very different than to older guys on the team. At the senior level, you are fighting for a spot and nothing comes for free. Qualifying to Eurobasket feels very rewarding and it's a good indication that we have done some things right on the way here.
"I think our team is deeper than before and now we can even manage with one or two players missing. If and when we are able to keep the core of the together, I think we have a good chance of qualifying during upcoming years as well."