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Susijengi take center stage at Finnish Sports Gala
HELSINKI (FIBA EuroBasket 2017) - The profile of Finland's basketball team keeps getting higher and higher with the Susijengi once again in the spotlight this week.
The national side heard the plaudits at the annual Finnish Sports Gala on Thursday in Helsinki.
With the vast majority of the awards being voted on by the Finnish Sportswriters Association, the Susijengi were runaway winners in the Team of the Year category.
Meillä oli upea korisvuosi, mutta kyllähän tämä hiljaiseksi vetää. KIITOS kaikille, jotka olitte osa näitä unohtumattomia tarinoita ja vielä kerran onnea @MarkkanenLauri! 🙌💙 #Susijengi #Finnisher #6pelaaja #Yhdessä pic.twitter.com/FUVRySAsCV— Basket.fi (@basketfinland) January 18, 2018
The Finns played at their fourth consecutive FIBA EuroBasket in 2017 but for the first time hosted Group Phase games and played in a packed arena, winning four of their five games there.
"Last September, we had stands filled with people and a great feeling to play," veteran point guard Teemu Rannikko said.
"We thank all of our brilliant fans and the whole Finnish sports community. Without them, we wouldn't have been able to perform at this level."
Every game Finland played set the pulse racing, especially on opening night against France and again versus Poland.
Henrik Dettmann, the architect of Finland's rise in international basketball in the past decade, was voted No. 2 in the Coach of the Year category. Skiing coach Olli Ohtonen edged out Dettmann by a single vote for first place.
FIBA EuroBasket 2017 was named the Sports Phenomenon of the Year.
"We would like to thank the Susijengi, their fans and all the basketball fans in Finland," said FIBA EuroBasket Helsinki Group Phase Secretary General Ari Tammivaara.
"You have proven once and for all that Finland is a basketball country. This accomplishment wouldn't have been possible without our volunteers. We organized a heck of a lot of games – together!"
Nearly 88,000 spectators were in the arena in Helsinki during five days of pool play.
One of the sensations of Finnish basketball, Chicago Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen, earned the distinction as the Basketball Player of the Year. National team veteran Petteri Koponen of Barcelona had claimed that honor the previous six years.
Markkanen had a lot of big games in Helsinki, including the one against France.
Markkanen, 20, was also awarded with Breakthrough Athlete of the Year award and the Young Athlete of the Year gong.
Markkanen could not attend the gala, yet he did send a message.
"Unfortunately I couldn't join you in the gala because of work, but I am extremely honored by this award," he said.
Markkanen was also among the top three in the Finnish Athlete of the Year category. Iivo Niskanen, a skier, claimed that award.