Finnish fans were already buzzing about basketball before the season because of the national team's promotion-winning campaign from EuroBasket Division B in the summer.
Now everyone's thrilled by Korisliiga club Lappeenranta advancing to the EuroCup Qualifying Round.
Mika Turunen's team won their first game of the second elimination round tie at Keravnos Nicosia by 16 points and held on at home for a 173-164 aggregate victory.
And a big part of the victory was guard Petri Virtanen, who averaged 21 points, 2.5
|Fellow fin Pasi Olavi Riihelä has been another key to Lappeenranta's success. |
FIBA Europe: Petri, congratulations on reaching the EuroCup Qualifying Round. What does this mean to the team?
Virtanen: One of our goals was to get to this round. To be among the best 16 teams of this competition is very satisfying, also that we beat the Cypriots.
FIBA Europe: What do you think was the difference against Keravnos?
Virtanen: We were more ready in the first game and had more heart in the first game. That made the difference, winning by 16 points. And then we just tried to survive in the second game and just did a great job.
FIBA Europe: What do you think Lappeenranta reaching the Qualifying Round means to Finnish basketball?
Virtanen: It's a really good thing. This is an opportunity for other teams to see a different kind of game. It's a great opportunity for all young players to see what the next level is all about.
FIBA Europe: Your club was drawn into Group A against CSK-VVS Samara, Tartu Rock and PAOK. What do you think about the draw?
Virtanen: It's a really tough group. We have to really play great games to reach the quarter-finals. But at home, we will have a chance against every team if we play how we can. I think we will not be the favorites in every game. But I'm really, really looking forward to each one.
FIBA Europe: So, what is the goal for the team now?
Virtanen: We haven't thought about it or been talking about it as a team. We just want to keep going as far as possible and just try to be in the top two and go to the quarters. But you have to keep your goals high.
FIBA Europe: Let's turn our attention to the Finnish national team that won promotion to Division A at the senior level by beating Romania this summer. A Finn, Henrik Dettman, guided the team, which included yourself, and he of course helped Germany to the bronze medal at the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis. How much impact did his return to Finland three years ago have on the team's success?
Virtanen: He believes in us and he's been building up our team and everybody has had their role for the past three years and that helped us. Dettman really cares for the players and asks them to come to the national team to get in shape. And none of the players say no when Dettman asks. I think he's really helped my game when I work out with him.
|Marque Perry and Samara await Virtanen in the qualifying round.|