- What inspired you to become a basketball coach?
Probably the challenge of the game. There’s so much to learn, so many possibilities in the game of basketball. I didn’t really have the ability to play basketball since I wasn’t much of a player, but the dimensions of the game inspired me the most.
- What are the most important elements of effective leadership?
Of course, you need to have strategies and vision, and you have to understand the values and beliefs of the system you are working in. But if you want to create results, you have to get to know and respect the people you are working with.
- What skills does basketball teach that could be used in business life?
I’ve heard that an individual makes 60 000 decisions a day. In the game of basketball, you need to make constant decisions based on your self-knowledge, your knowledge of your team mates, of the opponent, of the game and of the surroundings. If you can handle basketball, you can handle pressure. And you need pressure management skills in business. Many basketball players have grown to be great business leaders.
- As a coach, what is your style of management like?
I like to think of myself as an organic farmer. I like to get to know the soil and weather conditions where I work. I hand-pick the grapes, select the correct pesticides, surround myself with people who share the same passion. My ultimate goal is to create the perfect wine. I can’t expect results quickly, but I need to have a long-term plan and the possibility to create and play a little.
- What person or event has had the most influence on your life? Why?
My mentor was the great Robert Petersen, who worked as one of my assistant coaches with the Finnish national team in the 1990s. Petersen was a loud, passionate person in his earlier days, but in his 60s and 70s, he was kind of an “Obi-Wan Kenobi” type of person – the perfect teacher for someone loud, passionate and young such as me.
Even in the mid-1990s, Petersen knew exactly how the game was evolving and how we should improve our player development. The style of play of our national team is basically Petersen basketball.
In the last decade or so, my children have taught me a great number of things I would have never figured out without them. They are my greatest teachers. Not to forget my wife, who is my biggest supporter.
- What are the most important character building qualities to teach your players?
I want my players to care. They all have different styles and different personalities, but as long as they care about giving their most as well as caring for each other and the game of basketball, we will have a great journey together. Each and every player has to find their own way to help the team. You wouldn’t expect the same things from asparagus, Kobe beef and vanilla custard.
- How do you see the current state of Finnish basketball?
We have qualified for four consecutive FIBA EuroBasket games after a 16-year absence. We were handed the wild card for the FIBA World Cup in 2014. We hosted FIBA EuroBasket in Helsinki for the first time in 50 years. We have a franchise player in NBA and two excellent Euroleague players. 10 years ago, nobody would have dared to dream about achievements like this.
That is to say, we’ve come a long way from the rock bottom of the mid-2000s, but we still have a long road ahead of us. We can develop even better players, better clubs, and better facilities for development. In terms of the national team, I’d pay close attention to what happens in the 2020s.
- What advice would you give to young people hoping to become sports professionals?
Never let anyone make you believe you can’t achieve something. If you really want something, you will find the tools, the facilities and the teachers to achieve your goal. Do your homework!
- What one word or phrase do you want people to associate with your name?
“I want people to remember I stood up for them – as well as for basketball.”
- How do you relax?
I find myself a gastronomist and a wine lover. Having an interesting conversation about almost any subject with a smart person over a well-prepared dinner is my favourite pastime.
But playing and philosophising with my children must be my selection, if I may only pick one.
Photo: Tuomas Vitikainen/Wikipedia Commons