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Finland's Wilson: "Iceland will be prepared so we need to be on our toes"
HELSINKI (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers) - Jamar Wilson has been one of the most exciting players in Finland's national side since he burst onto the scene at FIBA EuroBasket 2015.
On opening day, against tournament hosts France, he very nearly led the Susijengi to victory with a 21-point haul but Les Bleus prevailed, 97-87, after overtime.
The 6ft 1in (1.85m) playmaker, crucial in the November World Cup Qualifiers when pouring in 21 points and handing out 7 assists in the Finns' 82-80 triumph at Bulgaria, will again take center stage when the national team square off against Iceland in Reykjavik on February 23. The Finns will then return home to host Bulgaria two days later.
Wilson, who celebrates his 34th birthday on Thursday, spoke to FIBA.basketball.
Finland got that big win at Bulgaria but fell at home to the Czech Republic while Iceland lost twice in the November Qualifiers. There is a lot of pressure on both teams to get a win in Reykjavik on February 23.
It will be a huge game. We need to take games like this away to take that next step. They're going to be prepared so we need to be on our toes as much as possible.
Would you say Iceland play a similar style to Finland?
Yes, in a sense. They play some small ball and they are pretty fast as well and shoot it. They try to up the tempo of the game and make it more fast paced. I definitely see the similarities but that's what you see with a lot of teams that are not big. We're not a big, big team so being mobile, coach wants us to play fast, outwork the team we are playing so yes there are definitely similarities.
Wilson was in top form when Finland won at Bulgaria on November 24
What do you remember about the first game against Bulgaria on November 24?
Every national team is pretty good and prepared. We were short on bodies. We went in with the mindset that some of the guys that have been logging a lot of minutes (Petteri Koponen, Sasu Salin and Lauri Markkanen) weren't there, so we just had to go there on the road in our first game and put our all out there. We were fortunate to win because it was a tough game. It was a good window for us. We had an opportunity to win the game against the Czechs. Not to take anything away from them but they didn't play as well as they could. We had some opportunities to knock on the door but didn't capitalize on them.
Do you feel you now have some insight into the Bulgaria team that will be helpful in the second game?
When it comes to the national team, it's like an any given day type of thing. Going into the second game is a new game. We know we played them but we have to go back to the drawing board. They'll change some things. I was surprised by how fast and mobile they were so it's going to be tough. We won't look past them at all.
"THE WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS GIVE ME A BIT MORE OF A BREAK IN THE SUMMER TO BE ABLE TO SPEND TIME WITH MY FAMILY. I LIKE THE FACT THAT YOU GET TO PLAY (FOR THE NATIONAL TEAM) THROUGHOUT THE SEASON AS WELL"
Is it fair to say that Finland never changes their style of play?
We don't change our tactics because our tactics fit our team. In general, when you talk about the Finnish national team, it's usually the same guys that are playing with each other for over 10 years so they have been doing it so long and have become accustomed to it. It's an 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' type of thing. The coach (Henrik Dettmann) implemented this 15 years ago. We don't need to change it because it's worked for us.
Finland coach Dettmann brought Wilson into the team in 2015
How did Finland's fans connect with the national team given the fact that Koponen, Salin, Markkanen were not playing in November?
I think in general, the Finns see the bigger picture. In the last decade there has been a lot of success in the sport of basketball so it's very hard to watch the team without having Lauri be a part of it, but at the same time, part of Finland in general is looking for the next Lauri. He came through the system so we knew what we had but it wasn't until he was put on the big stage to perform that he proved it to everyone. Finland is becoming a home to good basketball culture, good players, so I think people in general are starting to have more respect for the game of basketball.
What do you like about having World Cup Qualifiers windows during the club season?
It gives me a little bit more of a break in the summer to be able to spend time with my family, but I like the fact that you get to play throughout the season as well. It's nice to be able to go home during the season, sleep in your own bed, to have a little time off and spend some time with your family and eat your own food.