UNC Eying Overseas Talent

The basketball community began buzzing about Lauri Markkanen, a 6-foot-10, 210-pound forward, following a strong performance at the NBA’s first ever Basketball Without Borders global camp this past weekend in New York City.

Markkanen, who attends the Helsinki Basketball Academy in Finland, earned his way to the event after making the all-star game at the Basketball Without Borders Top 50 Europe camp. Markkanen was a late, but quality, addition according to Draft Express owner and analyst Jonathan Givony.

“It's hard to find guys like him these days -- 6-10, mobile, with a nice frame, and such a high skill-level,” Givony said. “Everyone in the NBA is trying to find that stretch four position because it has become such a coveted spot.”

“He looks like he has plenty of room to continue to develop too,” he added. “[He has] big shoulders, nice footwork and a solid feel for the game. He isn’t strictly a one-dimensional shooter. He can do some other things too.”

Givony said the next step in his development is getting stronger, tougher and becoming a better rebounder. Markkanen’s coach at HBA – Hanno Möttölä– echoed Givony’s thoughts regarding his strengths and weaknesses.

“He’s a great shooter for a big guy, really for anyone,” Möttölä said on Monday from Finland. “He’s a great shooter period. He’s a great shooter that can put the ball on the floor and finish with dunks. His inside game is a work in progress and he needs to get tougher and stronger like any high school junior. He has made great strides and his lateral movement on defense has really improved.”

Möttölä -- who played for Rick Majerus at Utah from 1996-2000, including defeating UNC in the 1998 Final Four -- also noted that Markkanen is a hard worker and plays the game with the right mentality.

“Mentally he’s a great talent,” he said. “That might be his biggest talent. That’s what separates – at least from my experience in my career – the good players and the great ones. He’s mentally tough.”

Markkanen comes from an athletic family. His father – Pekka Markkanen – played at Kansas for Roy Williams during the 1989-1990 season and then spent 17 years playing professional basketball. Markkanen’s brother – Eero Markkanen – is also a gifted athlete that plays soccer for the Real Madrid club’s second team.

A junior in high school, Markkanen has experience with Finland’s National Team. In 2013, he averaged 15.6 points and 5.9 rebounds in Division B of the U16 European Championships. Last year, playing in the U18 European-B Championships, Markannen went for 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds a game.

According to Möttölä, Markkanen’s plan is to finish high school in Finland and then head to college in the United States.

“All indications are that he will go to college when he graduates,” Möttölä said. “He’s a junior now, so he’s class of 2016. That’s his plan.”

Texas A&M assistant Kyle Keller is the only coach to make the trip to Finland to see Markkanen play this year, but the list of interested parties continues to grow.

“There’s a long list and it gets longer after this weekend,” Möttölä said. “There’s a lot of schools. I was just on the phone with a coach from Duke. It’s the normal big schools that any high level recruitment would have and would love to have.”

To go with Texas A&M and initial interest from Duke, Möttölä cited North Carolina, Florida, Utah, St. John’s and Arizona as other schools involved in Markkanen’s recruitment.

Markkanen’s father has an obvious connection to the North Carolina staff, but the Tar Heels are in the initial stages with the 17-year old prospect.

“I talk to coach [Steve] Robinson there, who was a young coach when (Markkanen’s) dad was at Kansas,” Möttölä said. “He was an assistant for Coach Williams at Kansas. I had a great chat with him. It’s extremely early with most of these schools.”

“I think Coach Robinson has emailed Lauri, but I think that’s as far as it’s gone,” he added.

Regardless of UNC’s connection and the fact that Texas A&M was in to see him early, Möttölä made it clear that Markkanen’s recruitment is open.

“It’s February 16th and Lauri is going to take some visits in November,” he said. “So there’s 8 months. There’s no ranking, it’s in the early part of his recruiting right now.

"We have to gather all the possible information and Lauri has to make a lost of priorities for himself in what he wants. It is not automatically the biggest and most prestigious school for a lot of these international kids. It has to be a perfect fit on and off the court.”

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