Tuukka Kotti (FIN)
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Kotti 'still gets chills' when thinking of Spain 2014

HELSINKI (FIBA Basketball World Cup/EuroBasket 2015) - No Finnish player had ever experienced anything remotely like it, that crazy night in late August of 2014 when the national team ran onto the court to play in a FIBA Basketball World Cup for the first time.

Power forward Tuukka Kotti certainly had not.

For several months last year after the Finns received a wild card to take part in the tournament, the basketball buzz grew louder and louder in the Nordic country.

By the time the Finns were ready to face the mighty United States on opening night, the buzz had turned into a deafening roar.

When the Susijengi fans, about 10,000 of them, saw the players come out of the tunnel for their first game to face the USA, the shouts and clapping were non-stop.

The Finnish fans turned the arena into a carnival-like atmosphere.

Most wore wolf costumes, Finland jerseys or both.

What happened after, however, was not a pretty sight, at least for the Susijengi.

The USA NBA stars flexed their muscles, ran faster, soared higher and lowered the boom, rolling to a 114-55 triumph.

Welcome to the World Cup, Finland.

So for Kotti, what it his best memory of Spain 2014?

"It's strange to say this since we lost by 60 points (59 actually), but it was definitely the game against the USA national team," he said.

I'll never forget the atmosphere when we took the floor for the first time - Kotti

"I still get chills when I think about it.

"The fans were amazing. Even when we were losing by 40 points, they were still cheering for us.

"It was an honor to play against the USA team."

Finland would go on to bounce back immediately and beat Ukraine in a real thriller.

After that incredible game, Finland had a lot more great moments but they came up just short of progressing to the Round of 16.

"Overall, we could have played a lot better at the World Cup and we could have advanced from our group, but it's something I'll never forget," Kotti said to the VTB United League website.

Finland did not achieve their aim of progressing from the Group Phase, but the tournament appearance has only served to bring even more fans to the sport in the country.

More and more people are watching and also playing the game, and Finland's senior team and basketball federation are largely responsible.

Even before Spain, the Finns had opened eyebrows with gritty displays at EuroBaskets 2011 and 2013, where they advanced from the opening round and clinched ninth-place finishes.

"There is a lot more interest in basketball now," Kotti said.

"People also understand the game better.

"After the EuroBasket tournament in 2013, fans even started to recognize me and say hi on the streets.

"That never happened before to basketball players in Finland."

For the sport to be successful, Finland need to have a good domestic league.

"The Finnish league is becoming more popular and you can watch VTB League games on TV," said Kotti, whose Bisons team is in the VTB United League.

"More people are coming to the games and a lot of kids are starting to play basketball."

It's a great time for basketball in Finland - Kotti

So even while the Finns did not progress in Spain, it's all good when the subject is basketball in the country.

The fans and players and coaches can also look back at the highlights and realize that they had an amazing experience.

Over the weekend, Kotti's Bisons team hosted BC Khimki in the VTB United League.

That meant that Finnish fans got to see their most popular player these days, Petteri Koponen.

Khimki guard Koponen is moving from strength to strength with the Russian team and he led it to an 87-84 triumph by pouring in a team-high 19 points.

This summer Kotti, Koponen and Finland will play at EuroBasket 2015.

They will go up against hosts France, Israel, Poland, Russia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in Group A, in Montpellier.