19 Elias Valtonen (MANR), 4 Jalen Adams (JERU)
Jeff Taylor's Eurovision
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Manresa's Valtonen has big aims with club and Finland

VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - Elias Valtonen did the right thing a couple of years ago when he decided to call time on his NCAA career in America and return to Europe.

Since leaving Arizona State University, he's become a linchpin in the Finland national team, and a player in the toughest league in Europe, the Spanish Liga Endesa, with Baxi Manresa.

Valtonen, a strong defender, didn't shy away from guarding reigning MVP Bonzie Colson

Manresa coach Pedro Martinez has Valtonen often guard the other team's best player. It happened last week when the 2.00m (6ft 7in) Valtonen helped put the shackles on Bonzie Colson of Pinar Karsiyaka, last season's Basketball Champions League MVP while on the books of Strasbourg.

Valtonen, 22, isn't as famous as NBA star Lauri Markkanen, who he played with at the Helsinki Basketball Academy when he was 16, yet he's raising eyebrows.

The competition Valtonen faced when he was still an adolescent clearly helped him. There was no basketball club for the youngster to join in his hometown of Eura, in the western Finnish region of Satakunta. So Valtonen's father took him to the local gym instead, where he played against men.

It toughened him up.

Valtonen learned to become a hard-nosed player, one that isn't afraid of the big moment, whether he's open on the wing to take a jump shot, trying to get to the rim for a layup or dunk, or guarding the opponent's top player.

"I take pride in that," Valtonen said, referring to his defensive assignment of Colson. "That's why we play, matchups like that. Also, Guillem (Jou) did a very good job on him. It's a team effort."

Valtonen has had a rapid ascent in the two years since he left Arizona State. His playing time had dropped off substantially at the end of the 2019-20 college season and Valtonen elected to return to Europe and compete in Germany's second division with Tigers Tübingen, whose head coach was a Finn, Daniel Jansson.

Valtonen averaged 15.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.0 block per game. That paved the way for him to sign last summer a three-year contract with Manresa.

By going to Europe, not only did he launch his professional career but he realized his dream of playing for Finland's national team (he had made the roster for a World Cup Qualifier game against Iceland in 2018 but didn't play).

"Since I started playing in 2010, and when the Susijengi had the boom rise, I set the goal to be a part of that team," he said.

"I've been with them a couple of years now and hopefully I can help them and be an important member of the team in the future as well. It's very important for me. I have two different goals, with the national team and the club teams, and hopefully they can go hand in hand in the future."

Valtonen was a vital part of the Susijengi's successful EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers campaign, playing in four of the six qualifying games and finishing second overall in efficiency (17.0) behind Petteri Koponen (18.0). He led the team in rebounding with an average of 5.0 per game. He was third in assists (3.5apg) and second in steals (2.3spg).

His best game was probably against Georgia, when he had 14 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocks.

Valtonen contributed across the board to help Finland win, 78-70, at Georgia in the EuroBasket Qualifiers

It turns out that Finland's approach on the court is comparable to Manresa's.

"As a team it's very similar ... we like to play with each other," he said.

"We don't have individuals (stars) like other teams - Serbia, Spain or France - so we have to find the advantage somewhere else. And we try to play fast, interesting basketball and we've been getting quality wins. It's always a pleasure for me and I'm happy to wear the national team jersey whenever I can. I'm looking forward to doing so again in a couple of weeks."

After Manresa's game at UCAM Murcia this coming Sunday (November 21), Valtonen will join the Susijengi to play in their European Qualifiers for the World Cup at Sweden on November 25 and at home to Croatia on November 28.

"We want to achieve big things with the national team," Valtonen said. "It's a process and we try to continue what the older generations did and try to keep it going."

When Valtonen does link up with the Finns, he'll arrived with an enhanced reputation thanks to his performances with Manresa. The team climbed to eighth in the Spanish league on Sunday with a 86-75 triumph over Rio Breogan. Manresa have won all four of their games in the Basketball Champions League, with two of the victories coming against a Pinar Karsiyaka club that reached last season's Final.

"We knew that we had a very good team but had a lot of new guys," he said. "From the beginning, we won the Catalan Cup and that gave us confidence and we knew we had a chance of beating almost everybody. We just went game by game and we're happy that we're 4-0.



"We work very hard in practice," Valtonen said. "Pedro Martinez is a very good coach. I learn from him every day. It's been a learning experience for all of the team."

If Valtonen had to make a difficult decision to leave Arizona State, he knows it was the right one to take. He's also believes there were a lot of positives that came out of his experience in the United States.

"Now it looks like it was the right decision to leave but I have no regrets going there," he said. "It was very tough but it was two years of a lot of learning for me.

"I saw that kind of culture, college ball. It was good to see, to go there and practice hard every day, too. (Arizona State coach) Bobby Hurley was a very good player and coach, too."

Manresa and Finland are glad that the's back on the old continent. Manresa are the best team in the Basketball Champions League, the only one so far to have won four games. They should be aiming for big things.

"We're confident," Valtonen said. "First, step by step, we try to reach the first spot in the group and who knows what the limit is for us."

Jeff Taylor

FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.

FIBA takes no responsibility and gives no guarantees, warranties or representations, implied or otherwise, for the content or accuracy of the content and opinion expressed in the above article.

Jeff Taylor

Jeff Taylor

Jeff Taylor, a North Carolina native and UNC Chapel Hill graduate, has been a journalist since 1990. He started covering international basketball after moving to Europe in 1996. Jeff provides insight and opinion every week about players and teams on the old continent that are causing a buzz.