|Sasu Salin showed maturiy beyond his years for Finland in Lithuania in 2011|
In Lithuania two years ago, Finland snuck under the radar, surprising everybody by advancing from the First Round. A big part of their success came down to the backcourt pairing of Petteri Koponen and the then relatively unknown playmaker Sasu Salin. Now the 21-year-old has developed into a Euroleague starting combo-guard and will be finding it a little more difficult to catch opposition guards unaware this time round. fibaeurope.com caught up with Salin recently in the Slovenian capital to talk about his season to date and how his summer plans are shaping up.
You are now a well-established player for Union Olimpija. How has your development been here?
It's getting better. The first year was about getting to know the whole system of the club and coach. Last season I started getting some more playing time and this season I am playing even more. As a basketball player I have improved a lot.
You have had a significant rise in playing time this year, particularly in the Euroleague. Can you share your thoughts on how you think you performed?
Even last season I played a lot, because of the departure of many players. This season the club brought in Klemen [Prepelic], Alen [Omic] and some other guys, and now there are at least two players at each position. So I am very satisfied with the minutes I get to spend on court, given that competition is much stronger this season.
Given Union Olimpija's relatively young roster, can you be pleased with how you have progressed as a team?
It has been a bit up and down. We have a bigger motivation against bigger and stronger teams. You could notice that when we played against Real [Madrid] for instance - we played a lot better [against them] than against some teams that are not so high in the league. That's the thing that we should change. But we are young and it's mentally hard.
Turning now to playing for Finland. First of all a look back at your previous EuroBasket experience.
It's exciting. It was not only the first EuroBasket for me, but also the first one in many years for Finland. To be part of that team in that situation and also to get past the first round was absolutely crazy. Now I'm just looking forward to the next championships and hope we get the same kind of chance.
What was the biggest positive you were able to take from that tournament?
You get more experienced and when you play against the best players of each team you see you can compete with them. It's kind of motivating.
Most people will agree that Finland were a big surprise in Lithuania. This time round it is going to be more difficult to slip under the radar. What do you need to do to assure you build on your results from two years ago to have a better finish this time round?
We can be scared of the other teams we will play against at EuroBasket. We have a tough group in the first round with some excellent teams like Turkey, Russia and Italy. But we just have to play our game and then nobody knows what can happen. I think we can come through the back door and be a surprise of the tournament again.
What do you think is the biggest strength of your team?
We are a running team. We play aggressive defence and shoot for three a lot. So every time that we have a good shooting day it's very hard for opponents to stop us. When we hit a couple of those shots, we can beat really everyone.
|Petteri Koponen and Salin played their basketball for the same junior club|
As a country renowned for its exploits on snow, ice and behind the wheel of rally cars, how does basketball rate with the general public?
Ice hockey is the main sport in Finland. It has always been that way and will stay [this way]. Then there are a lot of winter sports, and then there is probably football. After that comes basketball and nowadays, since our national team has been playing better, maybe more people noticed us and the basketball got a bit more popular. It's been kind of a boom and a lot of people watched us during EuroBasket 2011 and the EuroBasket 2013 Qualifying Round. But still, the popularity of basketball is much smaller compared to other countries.
We are seeing a lot of young talent coming out of Finland, like you. What has led to this positive trend?
Probably it's because of Teemu Rannikko and Petteri Koponen, who have been playing abroad earlier and gave motivation to us young players. Besides that, I think that we also have a very good system in the national team. Players from younger teams get an opportunity to get in the senior team if they deserve it. They do not have to be a part of the team, but they get an opportunity to practice with us. That keeps you motivated as a young player. You can set high goals and achieve them too.
You mentioned Koponen. Can you tell us about your relationship with your backcourt partner?
He started playing basketball in the same club that I did. For my whole youth, when I was still a youngster, I watched him play. Now we are friends, we send each other messages from time to time and in the summer we hang out together. He is a good guy and a good friend.
What are the expectations being placed on this team back in Finland? Are you familiar with them?
Not really. Maybe if I were playing in Finland, I would have heard about it. Probably the people over there are talking about it too, but it hasn't reached me here in Slovenia. I'm not reading any internet forums or anything.
What are your own expectations for the tournament?
I hope we get from the first round and continue playing. It's going to be hard, but we will see. I think we have a chance to make it.