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Growing Up ... Lauri Markkanen

The Finnisher Looks Back on His Early Days in Jyväskylä
by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

Growing Up ...
Lauri Markkanen

The Finnisher Looks Back on His Early Days in Jyväskylä

For starters, can we talk about what an underrated nickname “the Finnisher” is for Cavaliers forward Lauri Markkanen?

Markkanenen – the versatile seven-footer from Vantaa, Finland – is technically the squad’s starting “small forward” – one-third of a jumbo frontline that’s barnstormed through the NBA through the season’s first half and put Cleveland squarely into the Playoff picture.

The 24-year-old, acquired by the Wine & Gold in a three-way deal between Portland and Chicago during the offseason, has had a rock-solid NBA career – averaging double-figures through each of his first five seasons. This year with the Cavaliers, Markkanen – the 7th overall pick, originally by the Timberwolves – is averaging 13.7ppg and 5.4 rebounds per.

Markkanen’s also coming off his best offensive performance of the season – dropping 28 points on his former squad on Wednesday night in Chicago, going 9-for-14 from the floor, including 5-of-9 from long-range. The 5th-year man has been very good overall of late – averaging 16.2 points per on 55 percent shooting from the floor, 47 percent from long-range over his last six outings.

Markkanen – whose father Pekka was Finland’s Player of the Year in 1989 – has excelled in separate stints with the Finnish national team and, in his single season at Arizona, was named All-Pac-12 First Team.

Through his first 37 games with the Wine & Gold, Markkanen has already drilled some huge shots as well as thrown down some jaw-dropping dunks – both of which were readily on display over the past couple weeks.

As the Cavs prepare for a well-earned three-game homestand, sat down with the Finnish forward to talk about his hometown, how he came to the States and who’s the best hoopster in his uber-athletic family in today’s installment of Growing Up

Over his last six games, the 5th-year man from Arizona is averaging 16.2 points per on 55 percent shooting from the floor.
Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Vantaa was actually … just the place I was born. But other than that, I don’t have any kind of connection to it. Jyväskylä where I grew up – from when I was three until about when I was 16. That’s more of like my hometown.

In Finland … Jyväskylä is a low-key city. I don’t have anything to complain about, growing up there. It was a great environment to get better and grow up and have fun at the same time. It was the perfect place for me.

I come from an … athletic family. My parents and one older brother played professional basketball and another brother plays professional soccer in Europe. I’m the youngest one.

Growing up, I played … a lot of hockey. Not on a team, but outdoor hockey a couple times a week until I was about 15. And I played soccer until I was about 13. Other than that, I started basketball really young.

My second-best sport … would probably be soccer.

With hockey … I mean, I’m seven feet tall, and I’d be, like, 7-6 – I’d be like Tacko – with the skates on.

I haven’t played … hockey in a long time – probably seven or eight years. But I enjoyed it a lot, just going out with my buddies and hanging out. We didn’t have pads or anything like that. I was more just skating around, playing more of a technical game, I guess. Without equipment, you can’t really do slap shots.

Basketball’s always been … the easiest to to play, against my parents and my brothers – and growing up we had a hoop in our back yard.

It’s tough to say when … I was first able to be my dad at basketball.

As a kid … you think the other person is going full-speed, trying to beat you, trying his hardest. But I don’t know, at which point, I could legitimately beat him without him, kind of, ‘letting’ me.

I always challenged … my dad and my brothers and my mom when I was a kid. They got tired of my always asking them to come outside and play. But I wanted to beat them. They let me off the hook very easily. It was very competitive.

I didn’t start … beating my brothers until after I was 11, at least. Probably even older.

I was always … kind of lean and my brothers were just bigger, so it depended on whether my shot was falling or not. Once I got a little bit bigger and stronger, the gap between us closed.

"I mean, I’m seven feet tall, and I’d be, like, 7-6 – I’d be like Tacko – with the skates on."

It never got physical … between my brothers and I. It wasn’t like that. I wanted to win, and my brothers didn’t want to lose to their baby brother. You can see that I’m not the biggest trash-talker in the world. We played to win, but there was never any bad blood.

I had to make a decision … when I was 16. I was just playing basketball because it was fun. I never thought about having a career or anything like that. But at 16, they started recruiting me to Heilsinki and to the academy to kind of prepare for college. So, I had to make a decision – do I want to get something out of basketball or do I just do it for fun, stay at home and play with my best friends.

So I moved to Helsinki … and spent a couple years there in high school and our coach did a great job of contacting schools. I told them right away instead of going pro in Europe, I wanted to try the college route.

My one year at Arizona … happened so fast. I had national team stuff in Finland, so I didn’t come over until September, I think. And we were done in March.

I had a great time … and now that I look back at it, I feel like I only remember the good stuff. Like, you don’t remember how hard it was, going to class at 8 a.m. after playing a game the night before. I look back and I know the decision was right. It got me in the place I’m at now – and that wouldn’t have happened without Arizona.

Looking back, I definitely … remember my first dunk. I think I was 14 or 15.

The funny thing about it is … that I had never dunked in practice. It was in a game and the opposing team had a sideline in-bounds. I stole the ball and had a breakaway, and I actually went up with my right leg, trying to do a left-handed layup.

But then I realized … how high I was – so I dunked with two hands. That was my first dunk ever. It was just a spur-of-the-moment thing. I guess because it was a game, the adrenaline was pumping a little harder.

It happened in a really small gym … that was basically just everybody’s parents, but it was still a fun moment I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.

(Even though my brothers told me afterward … that I’d dunked too early – and now every game that I didn’t dunk will be a disappointment.)

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