Koponen hopes Finns grow from Bilbao experience 24  march  2015

The sting of Finland's early exit from the FIBA Basketball World Cup is no longer there for Petteri Koponen, but some regret still remains.
The 26-year-old guard had a chance to advance from the Group Phase but left Spain 2014 after a couple of painful defeats to Turkey and New Zealand.

The Turks, who were runners-up at the 2010 World Cup on home soil, beat Finland after overtime, 77-73, and then New Zealand sealed the Susijengi's fate with a 67-65 victory to keep them from moving into the Round of 16.

"We didn't play as well as we can," Koponen said to FIBA.com.

"That's the only thing I regret.

"The whole team, we were struggling.

"We couldn't score the ball as we can. We just have to learn from it."

Koponen, Finland's best player, appeared to be running low on fuel late in the defeats to Turkey and New Zealand.

He could have iced a triumph over Turkey in the last minute but missed free-throws, and instead of fouling, the Finns allowed Turkey to hit a three-pointer to force overtime.

Ergin Ataman's side then prevailed.

Finland still had a chance to progress with a win against against New Zealand but lost when Koponen, who had been phenomenal for his team in their games, was short with a potential game-tying jump shot in the final seconds.

Koponen had scored 17 points against Turkey, and 13 against the Kiwis, but ended up on the losing end both times.

Both Turkey and the Tall Blacks advanced to next stage and the Finns had to think about what might have been.

"You never can give excuses and you have to make shots," Koponen said, when asked if fatigue contributed to his misses.

"But it's basketball. You just try to play as hard as possible and help the team."

Koponen has digested what happened in Bilbao and come to the conclusion that Finland have much to be proud of, especially because of what the country brought to the tournament as a wild card.

There were an estimated 10,000 Finnish fans that travelled to Bilbao to support the team and create maybe the best atmosphere in the entire event.

After their victory over Ukraine, Koponen and his teammates went to a fan zone and saw something incredible.

"I'm always going to remember the World Cup and our fans," Koponen said.

"The people in Spain are going to remember that, the ones that were in Bilbao.

"They are going to remember the atmosphere there, it was one of the best moments of our basketball career.

"We didn't finish a couple of games. I missed a couple of free-throws against Turkey, but that was basketball and overall it was a good experience."

It was also, Koponen hopes, a learning experience.

Maybe Finland, with those tough games under the belt, will be better for it.

"We will see this summer when we go to the EuroBasket," Koponen said.

"I think we are going to have a new team.

"Some older guys are going to go out and younger guys will come in, but I think our main core will be there and I just hope that everyone will be healthy.

"That will be the key for us."

But if Finland have learned something from Bilbao that can help them, what is it?

"We need to play a full 40 minutes," Koponen said.

"Basketball is a crazy game. It's a game of runs.

"In one minute or two minutes, everything can happen, especially with the new rules and the game so much faster than it was before.

We need to stay focused until the end — Koponen

Finland should not be forgotten when it comes to listing the sides that will contend for a spot at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

They could qualify by reaching the Final of EuroBasket 2015 in France, or a strong showing could land them in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

Koponen does not look that far ahead.

He thinks only about Finland's Group A games coming up in Montpellier against France, Russia, Israel, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Poland.

"Of course, for us, we have to take it game by game," Koponen said.

It's a very balanced group after France — Koponen

"There are tough teams. Russia will be tough if they bring all of their best players and it's going to be a big challenge.

"But I think we have shown before than we can be a dangerous team and we have beaten some great teams before.

"The main thing is that everybody needs to be healthy.

"We don't have as many players as the big basketball countries.

"If we are missing someone, we are going to see that we miss it.

"So we just hope to get through the preparation healthy and then start."

On Wednesday, Koponen will play for BC Khimki in the second leg of their Eurocup Quarter-Final against Valencia, the same team that upset them last season en route to the title.

Khimki have a one-point lead on aggregate going into the game.

After the campaign, the Finn will be a free agent.

He has not rule out a move to the NBA.

The Philadelphia 76ers selected him with the 30th pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and then traded his rights to the Portland Trail Blazers.

"I got drafted many years ago but decided to stay in Europe and get many more minutes," he said.

"But if there is a good situation to go to the United States and I had an opportunity to go, of course.

"I've always said it's my dream to go there.

"At the same time, I have a very good situation in Europe and I play for one of the top teams in Europe.

"But it's still open.

"I haven't decided anything it."
Source http://www.fiba.com/news/koponen-hopes-finns-grow-from-bi...