|Joonas Lehtoranta was a standout at U20 Men Division B for Finland in summer 2013, and has sinced eased into a role picking up serious minutes in the EuroChallenge for Team TEHO Sport Kotka|
As Group L leaders Ural Ekaterinburg arrived in town to take on Team TEHO Sport Kotka, one of the players tasked with snapping the Russian side's seven-game winning streak in the Wednesday clash, was leaving school.
The Kotka-born sharp-shooting guard Joonas Lehtoranta is in his last year in the local high school and his daily morning routine does not include shoot-around sessions on the basketball court, but books and study.
Yet this has not prevented Lehtoranta from returning for an excellent display at the U20 European Championship Division B last summer to turn into a staple of Kotka's 12-man squad this season.
Lehtoranta, who turns 20 in February, averages 14.5 minutes of playing time per game in Kotka's EuroChallenge campaign and contributes 3.3 points and 1.6 rebounds per contest.
The young Finnish international took a short break between studying and training to speak to fibaeurope.com and if his optimistic outlook is anything to go by, Ekaterinburg might just get schooled in Kotka on Wednesday.
What do you think your team can achieve in a difficult game such as the one against Ekaterinburg? Do you have good chances of qualifying to the next phase from this group?
As long as we keep our own game plan and stay focused the whole 40 minutes we will have a good chance to beat them. Home games are extremely important, so if we win both of our games at home I think qualifying for the next round is very possible.
Your team has had ups and downs this year, winning some big games and losing some games that were considered easier, what do you think are the reasons for that?
We have played a lot of games this season and I think that sometimes we just haven't been ready to play.
How do you find your first experience playing in the EuroChallenge this year, at such a young age? How do you see your role in the team?
It's been a great experience so far. Lots of good and tough teams. Every minute I get to be on the court is important and it gives me confidence.
Since you've been getting good minutes with KTP this season, both in Finland and in the EuroChallenge, do you feel that these extra games have helped you grow as a player since the beginning of the season?
Yes, definitely! Especially the EuroChallenge games.
You have played with the Finnish national team in the U16, U18 and one year in U20. Do you think that this experience of European championships with Finland every summer has helped you as a player, and how?
Yes it has helped me because we play against tough teams around Europe. We practice a lot when we are in the national team camp and practising against the best players at my age has made me a stronger and better player.
Did you watch the games of the senior national team at the EuroBasket? Is part of your ambitions to play for Finland at a EuroBasket one day? Do you have a specific basketball dream?
I watched some of the games at EuroBasket. I definitely want to play in the senior national team some day. Also, I hope that one day I can play somewhere other than in Finland.
As a young player in Finland, do you think that basketball has become more popular in the country in recent years? Are you happy with the current status of basketball or do you think there is room to grow more in the future?
Yes it has become more popular and I think our senior national team has had a lot to do with it. But there is always room for basketball to grow even more!