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13 - 22
July 2018
7 Edon Maxhuni (FIN)
15/06/2018
News
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Kosovo roots, but a Finnish jersey on his back, Maxhuni faces emotional summer

HELSINKI (FIBA U20 European Championship 2018, Division B) - Edon Maxhuni believes Finland will face the pressure of being one the best teams at the FIBA U20 European Championship 2018, Division B. Now, the road back to the top flight for Maxhuni will include an emotionally charged game against Kosovo.

Both Finland and Kosovo are drawn into Group D in Bulgaria - along with Georgia, Kosovo, Poland and Portugal. Maxhuni is really looking forward to the showdown with Kosovo.

"It's a big game for me and for my family," said Maxhuni, whose parents were both born and raised in the Kosovar region of Yugoslavia. "It means a lot because that's where I am from and to play against them is going to be fun. But at the same time it's an emotional game and a game that I will remember for life."

Maxhuni's parents fled Kosovo for Finland in 1992 during heightened political instability. Maxhuni's father Besim Maxhuni and uncle Bekim Maxhuni both played basketball, with his dad then playing and now coaching in Finland. Keeping with the sporting heritage, Maxhuni's grandfather Hysni Maxhuni was a well-known football coach. 

"(THE GAME AGAINST KOSOVO) IS A BIG GAME FOR ME AND MY FAMILY. IT MEANS A LOT BECAUSE THAT'S WHERE I AM FROM AND TO PLAY AGAINST THEM IS GOING TO BE FUN."Maxhuni

"I'm going to say that my dad is going to be on my side - that is just a big guess," said Maxhuni, who speaks Albanian.

The 6ft 1in (1.86m) guard actually still has a strong connection to Kosovo and the Kosovo Basketball Federation KBF asked Maxhuni about playing for Kosovo's senior national team - an offer that Maxhuni eventually turned down.

"It was a tough decision but at the end of the day I started to play for the Finnish national team and Finnish basketball helped me to get to the position I am at right now," he said. "For my future, it's better to play for the Finnish national team. I think I could play a bigger role in the Kosovo national team for now but in the future I will have the same responsibility in the Finnish national team when I get more experience."

"TO HAVE A CHANCE TO MAKE MY DEBUT IN THE (WORLD CUP) QUALIFIERS WOULD BE THE GREAT THING THAT CAN HAPPEN THIS SUMMER AND THAT'S MY GOING, AND I'M GOING TO DO WHAT IT TAKES."Maxhuni

Maxhuni has already been recognized by the Finnish federation as a future part of the senior national team as he was invited to the Susijengi training camp for the third window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers. 

"To have a chance to make my debut in the Qualifiers would be the greatest thing that can happen this summer and that's my goal. I'm going to do whatever it takes," said Maxhuni, who played at HBA Marsky Helsinki before moving to the United States to play at Long Beach State. "These are the moments [that] I play basketball [for] - to experience and to make my dreams come true."

Before that though, Maxhuni will try to get Finland back to Division A at the U20 European Championship Division B. He was unable to get the Finns back up to the top flight last summer as one of six 1998-born players on the team. 

"I think the biggest thing that we learned from last year was that we need to play hard every game and even though we are in Division B there are so many good teams. Also, that we need to learn that if we lose one game we need to know how to bounce back and focus on the next one."

Maxhuni, who averaged 13.1 points, 3.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds last summer as Finland finished in ninth place, has already helped Finland to promotion from Division B, as he got the U16 team up in 2013 - the first time the Finns played in the top flight since 1995. 

"It was great to help U16 get up to Division A and make history for Finnish basketball," Maxhuni said. "I think it was one of the best ways to start my experience in European Championships, and it would be the best thing to end my youth European Championship career by helping them get to Division A for next year."

In 2016, Maxhuni and Finland finished eighth at the FIBA U18 European Championship, the country's best placing since 1992.

But the task in Bulgaria will not be easy for Finland. In addition to other strong teams, Maxhuni believes the team will face the pressure of expectation.

"I think the biggest challenge is how are we going to handle the pressure because we surely are one of the best teams in the tournament. So we need to handle the pressure and just play game by game and not think about the things that can affect our game negatively," he said.

Regardless of the pressure and results in the end, Maxhuni will have the emotions of the game against Kosovo to remember for his life - though getting the Finns back to Division A would be a huge moment as well.

FIBA