Saturday, June 6, 2009

Hanno Möttölä returns to the courts

The Finns had better not be overlooked by the French and Italians when the Additional Qualifying Round for this year's EuroBasket is staged. Already a dangerous side with the tantalizing backcourt of Teemu Rannikko and emerging star Petteri Koponen, the Nordic country has just received a major boost with long-time center Hanno Möttölä announcing that he has ended his brief retirement from basketball to play for Finland and to resume his club career.

The 32-year-old held a press conference in Vantaa, the home of the national team, to say that he was back in the squad. "I wouldn't consider this a comeback," Möttölä said. "This is more like a next stage of my career." Möttölä, for want of a better word, was burned out after last year's qualifying campaign. A family man wanting to spend more time with his young children, the 32-year-old decided to quit basketball.

"Nine months ago," he said, "I felt absolutely exhausted and empty, and I didn't have the joy and motivation my body needs for full time training. Now I've had the opportunity to get the mental and physical break I needed, and during the winter my desire and motivation came back. When I realized that the desire didn't go away, there was no need to resist." So after a long break, the 2.09m power forward started to work out again with his personal and national team physical trainer, Jussi Hirvonen. Hardly anyone knew that for the past three months that Möttölä was planning to play again.

"Although running track and lifting weights is entirely different than being in basketball shape, my physical capabilities are much better than during last summer or season before that," he said. Möttölä's return to the game has added to the huge buzz in Finland that had been generated when two other Finnish sportsmen decided to come out of retirement in the past three months. One was world champion ski-jumper Janne Ahonen, who sent his regards to Möttölä. "If the older guys still are able to do it, us younger ones have nothing to worry about," said Ahonen, who is a year younger than Möttölä .

He was the first Finn to reach the NBA and he was also the first from his country to play in the Euroleague, not to mention the first Finland player to compete in that competition's Final Four. A record eight times Möttölä was voted Basketball Player of the Year in Finland. Möttölä averaged 11.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last summer in EuroBasket Division A.

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