Not finished yet: Karhu ready to make more Finnish basketball history
KAUHAJOKI (Finland) - Karhu Basket are in the midst of a historic season, but are not ready to end their FIBA Europe Cup fairytale just yet.
The competition debutants have made it all the way to the Semi-Finals with 12 wins already to their name in becoming the first Finnish side to reach this stage of the FIBA Europe Cup.
"THAT SECOND LEG WILL BE ONE OF THE BIGGEST GAMES IN FINNISH CLUB BASKETBALL"
Karhu overcame FC Porto for a 156-145 triumph in the Quarter-Finals and will next face Anwil Wloclawek across two legs for the right to advance to the Finals having already met in the Regular Season.
"It feels great to be in this position to be still playing to win it all," said Henri Kantonen. "Especially since this is the first year our club is participating in the FIBA Europe Cup. Our team and fans are excited for these upcoming games and the atmosphere in our arena was amazing already in the Quarter-Finals.
"Our ability to play team basketball the whole season has been our biggest advantage. Everybody knows their roles in the team and we have a very unselfish group, which is all just about winning games."
Kantonen is averaging 9.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game in the competition this season off the back of representing Finland at FIBA EuroBasket 2022 as the Susijengi made an inspired run to the Quarter-Finals.
And, the feel-good factor around Finnish basketball has continued with the run of Karhu Basket as Kantonen acknowledges the need to continue the momentum within the sport.
"Our national team has been doing better and better for many years now and we had a good run at [FIBA] EuroBasket 2022, and I feel like our domestic league has also got better throughout the years.
"We haven't had many teams playing European competitions and I feel like it's important for us to show to other countries and ourselves too that we have quality basketball here. We want to succeed for ourselves, but we also keep in mind that this is an important thing for the whole Finnish basketball."
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Karhu's run began back in October with a home victory over Egis Kormend and they are now two games away from a coveted place in the Finals. The second leg will be on their home floor in Kauhajoki and that could be a decisive factor, as Kantonen hopes will be the case.
"Our home court has been a tough place for our opponents and we have lost two games there in the whole season - one of them against Anwil. That second Semi-Final game is one of the biggest games in Finnish club basketball in a while and we know our home arena will be behind us to push us to win."
One more push to extend their historic run. One more push in pursuit of a European title.
"It would mean a lot [to make the Finals]," Kantonen concludes. "Our club has been aiming to play in these games to take the next step as an organization. They built the new arena and have made sure everything is right for us to perform. It's up to our team now to do it and make the club proud."
The first leg of the Semi-Finals takes place on Wednesday, March 29 before the return fixture at the home of Karhu is set for Wednesday, April 5.