Pieti Poikola is the head coach of Finnish team Pyrinto Tampere and the assistant coach of the U18 National Team. At 33, Pieti has already won a Korisliiga title and has a bright future ahead. Pieti was very kind to talk to Basketball Telegraph columnist Fulvio Floreani about his career thus far and Finnish basketball.
Coach, first off congratulations for the Korisliiga title last year! Tell our readers a bit about yourself, you're only 33 but already a successful coach. How did you fall in love with the game and how did your career as a coach start and develop so brightly and so quickly?
Generally, when people think about Finland top sports, ice-hockey and racing come to mind. Looking closely, however, basketball has produced big-time talents (Hanno Möttölä made the team in the NBA, Teemu Rannikko is a European Leagues veteran, Petteri Koponen and Gerald Lee have a bright future ahead, just to name a few). How's basketball going in Finland and what do you expect for the future?
The level of Finnish basketball is increasing slowly. We have some great coaches like Henrik Dettman and Ari Tammivaara who have taught younger coaches and players the work ethic. Möttölä's achievements (NBA, Euroleague) prove that a Finnish player can play and have a great career in the biggest leagues. Now we have very good U18 National team program and we all are very proud for the successes of our National team who has been able to win against Serbia, Italy, Israel, France. I like to tell all of you that even before Möttölä other players played abroad. Kari Liimo, for instance, was drafted by an NBA franchise in the early 70's. We have some interesting youngsters like Sasu Salin who's 19 and playing in Slovenia with powerhouse Olympia Ljubljana, and many others: I do believe we have the next Koponen and Rannikko.
As for the Korisliiga, your team has 3 American born players in its roster, the other players are Finnish and they have a lot of playing time and chances to grow.
I think 3 Americans is a good number because it's the right balance to have a good level in the League but the Finnish players can take the lights and responsibility on their teams. There are some excellent American players in our League. For example, on our roster there is the Italy 4th best scorer in 2006 and also the Brazil 4th best in 2008. Moreover, half of the National team players are playing in the league and having only three imports even kids can have lot of playing-time.
You are member of the U18 National team coaching staff. What are the expectations of the Finnish Basketball Federation and yours from this team.
There are many talented guys on our U18 team. We have some tall big-guards who can play at any level of competition. The biggest talent though is maybe Joonas Caven, a 6-10 who's been grinding in the last couple of years. This is the first time that a Finnish junior team joined the A-group of the FIBA competitions: the goal is to keep staying with the best European National teams. It's a pretty big success for us. Hopefully new generations will be even better. As a coach, it's a great honor to be part of Gordon Herbert's staff: he is really a great coach. I have learnt a lot by his methods.
Coach, let's talk a bit of Korisliiga, the Finnish professional league. How are the fans over there? There are many other aspects we want to know: the arenas, the media coverage, how's the league working with marketing?
Basketball is still a minor sport compared to ice hockey and football in Finland. We register about one thousand people in the gym but the numbers are going up. Gyms are relatively small, we don't have great arenas and this is maybe good, because they are packed and the atmposhere is great. Last season the finals were sold-out, and for great games and for playoffs some teams opt to play in the ice hockey arenas where the capacities are up to 5,000.
Pieti, where do you see yourself in 5 years? Still in Finland or maybe you would like to try and experience coaching basketball in top leagues?
I really never thought this play. I don't have a plan for my career. I just want to do my job in the best way possible, trying to help my team and players win and improve as individuals. It'd be great to have such a chance to coach abroad maybe being hired as an assistant first. But it's impossible to guess where I'll be in 5 years. We will see what it will come to happen.
Coach, thank you for your time and best of luck for your career and this year's campaign with Pyrinto Tampere!
Thank you. Thank you very much for your interest to our League!