Wyoming Cowboys forward Larry Nance Jr. enters an infusion center and takes a seat. He is able to walk right in without an appointment – one of the perks of living in Wyoming – and receive his Crohn’s Disease medication. A nurse comes over with a needle, starting an IV in his arm. As she prepares the IV bag containing the medicine, which is called Remicade, he must take Benadryl and Tylenol to ensure that he doesn’t have an allergic reaction to the biologic. After 30 minutes, the nurse attaches the bag of Remicade to his IV and he will remain sitting in his chair for approximately three hours as the medication enters his vein.
A college basketball player must keep his or her body in excellent shape so that they can perform at a high level. For most players, this means doing conditioning drills, lifting weights and eating healthy foods. On top of doing those things, Nance Jr. must also get this IV treatment every seven weeks. Initially, he received the medicine every two weeks, but he’s been able to space out his IV doses lately since his body has responded well to the Remicade.
The 6’8 forward has been extremely productive this season. He has put Wyoming on his back, helping the Cowboys win the Mountain West Tournament to earn the conference’s automatic berth in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. This season, Nance Jr. has led the team in points (16.1), rebounds (7.2) and blocks (1.2), and he’s second in steals (1.2) and field goal percentage (51.3 percent).
But he wasn’t always a dominant, physical specimen. Not too long ago, he was sick, undersized and constantly fatigued. He had no desire to play basketball, because he was in pain and even getting off the couch was exhausting. Then, Nance Jr. was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, which changed his life.
For a long time, Nance Jr. wondered what was wrong with him.
He was 16 years old, a sophomore in high school, and had no energy. Not to mention, all of his family members towered over him. He stood at just 6’0 tall and weighed less than 120 lbs. This isn’t short by most standards, but it is in the Nance household. His father, Larry Sr., was 6’10 and played 13 years in the NBA. His sister, Casey, was 6’4 as a freshman in high school.
“I was just really confused,” Nance Jr. told Basketball Insiders. “I was confused why I wasn’t growing more. I just didn’t have any energy, no appetite, no urge to play basketball.”
Later that year, he would be diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, which is a chronic illness that is described by doctors as “a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract.” It’s estimated that 700,000 Americans have Crohn’s Disease, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, and it most often affects individuals who are between 15 and 35 years old. It can affect patients in a number of ways, with the most common symptoms being abdominal pain, chronic fatigue, weight loss, fever, internal bleeding and bowel issues. There is no known cure, but patients can go into remission. Sometimes, serious treatment such as a biologic (like Remicade) or surgery is required. Crohn’s Disease isn’t life-threatening, but it can cause issues that are life-threatening if it goes untreated (such as blockages in the intestines).
The best way to describe Crohn’s is that it turns a person’s immune system against their own body. A healthy person’s immune system fights off harmful bacteria such as viruses, while working alongside the beneficial bacteria. A Crohn’s patient’s immune system attacks the good bacteria, meaning the person’s body is essentially fighting itself. This produces inflammation and ulcers that must be treated.
Still, Nance Jr. was relieved to have a diagnosis. Even though he had a chronic illness he’d have to deal with for the rest of his life, at least he finally knew what he was fighting and could put a plan in place.
“When I figured out why I was feeling like this, it was a relief for me because I knew I could start getting treatment,” Nance Jr. said. “I just wanted to start feeling better. My entire sophomore year was just a lot of pain. I mean, my two favorite foods are peanuts and popcorn and, at that time, I didn’t know that was making my stomach hurt. I was eating it, eating it, eating it and they just rocked my world that entire year.”
His doctor prescribed Remicade, and the medication started working almost immediately. With his body no longer having to fight the disease on its own, he quickly caught up to his relatives.
“From my sophomore year to my junior year, I grew about six and a half inches,” Nance Jr. said. “When I first got the Remicade, it was like it kicked my body into overdrive and I just started to catch up on all the growing and stuff that I had missed the past couple years.”
With a growth spurt and renewed energy, he was able to pursue his dream of playing college basketball, which is something he thought he’d never be able to do when he was undersized and fatigued.
“I mean obviously everybody who’s playing basketball growing up has the dream of playing [at a high level], but I dropped that dream really quick around eighth grade because I thought there was just no way,” Nance Jr. said. “I just didn’t have the urge to play it, practice it, nothing. Then, once I got that treatment, it was eye opening and really exciting because I could get my old dream back.
“I started realizing that maybe [the dream was realistic] at the end of my senior year. That’s when I started getting recruited and some guys were starting to talk to me, telling me they were interested. Then I was like, ‘You know what? I think I might be able to do this. I feel pretty good, so let’s go ahead and give it a shot.’”
As a senior at Revere High School in Ohio, Nance Jr. averaged 18.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, 2.6 steals and 2.3 assists. He was named Second Team All-Ohio, First Team All-Suburban League and First Team All-District, and led his team to two straight Suburban League Championships. In addition to Wyoming, he was recruited by Michigan, Michigan State, Central Michigan and Ohio. But he decided on the Cowboys and it has worked out for him, as evidenced by his impressive statistics and the team’s success.
Despite his medical issues, he has been able to follow in his father’s large footsteps. Larry Sr. was a three-time All-Star and won the NBA’s first dunk contest in 1984. Now, Larry Jr. is looking like a star as well and a pro career seems inevitable. He feels his success is so much sweeter given all of the obstacles he’s had to overcome.
“I enjoy it a whole lot more just because I know the other sides of things,” Nance Jr. said. “It’s like you can’t truly appreciate success until you fail, and that’s kind of where I’m at right now. I truly appreciate playing basketball at such a high level because I know what it’s like to struggle and really have a hard time, trying to figure out what is going on.”
Ironically, Nance Jr. describes himself as an energy guy on the court. He studies Chicago Bulls power forward Taj Gibson and, like Gibson, he tries to provide defense and hustle plays when he’s on the court. When asked what it’s like to be an energy guy just years after having zero energy, he can’t help but laugh.
“Wow, that’s even a new one for me,” Larry said. “I’ve never heard that, wow. It really is crazy because that’s what lost me my starting job in high school on a freshman team: lack of energy. Now, that’s my role.”
Larry knows what it’s like to feel horrible and hopeless due to Crohn’s Disease, which is why he wants to be a role model for children with the disease. He recently received some fan mail from a child with Crohn’s and he was ecstatic.
“Honestly, I just called my mom and dad right when I got out of practice because I got a letter from a kid in Pennsylvania who said, ‘I love sports and I keep reading your stories. You’re a huge inspiration to me to keep trying, keep doing my best to play.’ I usually don’t get really excited about fan mail anymore, but that was just really unique and I would take a letter like that over a letter like, ‘I admire your basketball skills’ any day,” Larry said. “That’s just on a different level.
“It’s like how [former NFL player] David Garrard affected me. I looked at him and thought to myself, ‘It’s possible.’ So I kept doing my best and here I am. For me to kind of flip that script and me being that person now is really a dream come true. I want to do a foundation, a charity. To be in that position, it is pretty incredible.”
I was drawn to Larry’s story because I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease when I was 12 years old. I had surgery to remove a large portion of my intestines several years later, and have been in that same chair at an infusion center waiting for a Remicade bag to empty.
Nance Jr. and I bonded immediately when discussing our experiences with the disease. We also found out we had the same childhood hero in Garrard. Like many children with Crohn’s Disease, we looked up to the former NFL quarterback, who played nine seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars and was diagnosed with the disease.
Garrard has been an inspiration to many Crohn’s patients. Over the course of his career, he passed for 16,003 yards and 89 touchdowns. In June of 2004, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease after experiencing stomach and chest pain. He had to undergo surgery to remove 12 inches of his intestines and then started Remicade, but he still managed to play in the 2004 NFL season and continue his football career for many years.
Garrard has been a speaker at camps for children with Crohn’s Disease and he runs the David Garrard Foundation, which holds events and raises money for Crohn’s Disease research among other causes. When told that Nance Jr. looked up to him as a child, Garrard was blown away.
“Well, you know what, that’s really cool,” Garrard said of Nance Jr. looking up to him and following in his footsteps. “Actually, when I got diagnosed and realized what the disease is all about and how many people it affected and how many kids are affected, I just knew right then that God blessed me with this disease so that I could try to be an inspiration to people, and I wasn’t afraid to speak out on it. It’s not a very comfortable disease and not something you want to bring up around the dinner table, even though that’s the exact time I would bring it up sometimes. My mission was basically trying to reach the youth and encourage them.
“I would get a lot of letters from kids around the country, saying how much I’ve helped them and that kind of stuff, but to actually see Larry go from being a kid to getting into college to making a name for himself in college and then hearing him say that I was a direct inspiration to him is really what it was all about. If there was just one kid who I could help do that – and maybe it wasn’t sports, maybe it was just being a productive person in their community – those are the stories that make it worth it. To finally have a kid grow up from being a young kid to a college athlete and say that I helped inspire him to continue on, there’s really a special place in my heart for that kind of stuff.”
Returning to action shortly after his surgery was important to Garrard, not only because he wanted to resume his NFL career but because he wanted to send a message to children with Crohn’s Disease.
“I was trying to get myself healthy enough so I could continue to play and just show them that you can beat this disease,” Garrard said. “You don’t have to let this disease keep you down, keep you locked in the house, not wanting to go outside, not wanting to play with your friends. I didn’t want them letting this disease have that kind of power over them.
“I was just not going to stay down very long – I’ve been that way my whole life. I’ve always been an athlete, so there’s nothing that can keep me down and that was just my mindset the whole time. I listened to the doctors, I said, ‘What do I have to do? What’s the best way? The surgery? Okay, let’s go ahead and do it now so I could have time to recover.’ Honestly, I lost a lot of weight, about 40 pounds total, and once I got healthy enough after surgery I just started eating anything and everything, and that’s pretty easy for me to do. I put most of the weight back on plus a little more because I did not stop eating, and I just knew I couldn’t be too skinny out there, trying to run around and getting hit and that kind of stuff. My teammates were encouraging me the whole time. I just stayed focused on what I had to do. I let my body heal in the abdominal area, and once the doctors gave me the okay, I was good to go. … I believe my positive attitude, my faith in God and my teammates and family members around me helped me fight my way back because there was a good culture around me. Then, once I felt like I was strong enough, I wasn’t even thinking about the disease; I was thinking about that 200-pound linebacker that was trying to blitz me.”
When Garrard speaks to children with Crohn’s Disease at places like the Painted Turtle Camp and Camp Oasis, he tries to motivate them. The fact that he played in the NFL – and has been very open about his disease – inspires many children. But still, there’s only so much he can do.
“The kids do love that I play sports, that I play football, but when I get there they honestly don’t care about that; they want someone to help them get a cure for this disease,” Garrard said. “They love that I played sports and all of that, but they are like, ‘Hey that’s pretty cool and everything, but let’s find somebody that can cure us. We don’t want to be sick at home and not able to go to school. We want to be outside running around with our friends. We want to be able to play normal.’ You hear that from all of them and that’s what motivates me, that’s what drives me. It’s that there are 10-year-old kids that have been dealing with this their whole life and they don’t know any different. There’s kids having a hard enough time just being a kid, but then they have to deal with something as serious as this as well.”
Garrard has spent years trying to raise money and awareness for Crohn’s Disease research. As far as his own health goes, though, he’s actually doing very well lately. His doctor recently told him that rather than getting a colonoscopy every year to monitor his Crohn’s Disease as he had been doing, he can start getting them once every three years since he has been doing fine for quite some time.
“I feel great,” Garrard said. “I just want my story to be the same kind of story that everyone else can have, and I hope that I can inspire people. Hopefully Mr. Nance Jr. can do the same and even more.”
Nance Jr. looks up to Garrard and has dreamed of working alongside the quarterback on a Crohn’s charity or foundation. Shortly after being interviewed for this story, Garrard asked for Nance Jr.’s phone number and the two connected. Garrard would love to be a mentor for Nance Jr., who was thrilled to speak to the athlete he looked up to as a kid.
“When I was younger, I looked to see what famous people had Crohn’s and there really wasn’t a whole lot who did at that time,” Nance Jr. said. “Once I found David Garrard, it kind of opened my eyes around my junior and senior year when I was getting pretty good at basketball. I started thinking, ‘This might be possible. I mean, he’s playing a much tougher game than I am and he could still do it.’ So I figured I’d keep pursuing [my dream] and give it a shot.”
The main message that Nance Jr. wants to deliver to children is that Crohn’s Disease shouldn’t control their life or limit them in any way.
“I want them to know there is nothing that you can’t do because of Crohn’s,” Nance Jr. said. “As bad as it might be at one point, your body is going to learn how to live with it, learn how to adapt to it. It’s not going to prevent you from living a happy life.”
Because Nance Jr. is a senior, these NCAA Tournament games will be his final contests as a college basketball player. He hopes that his strong play can lead to him getting drafted by an NBA team, not only so he can live out a dream but also because so he can reach even more people and become a face of Crohn’s Disease, just as Garrard did.
“[Getting drafted] would be a dream come true, and at the same time it would also be, for me, a tremendous victory,” Nance Jr. said. “There were a lot of times when I first got the disease when I was like, ‘Uh oh, can I still play even? Is that possible?’ There were questions and concerns there and to be able to answer those by getting drafted would be a tremendous victory for myself and the entire Crohn’s community.”
On Friday, Nance Jr. will be on college basketball’s biggest stage as Wyoming takes on Northern Iowa in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Regardless of what happens in the Big Dance, Nance Jr. has already won the most important battle of his life and inspired Crohn’s patients everywhere.
For more information on Crohn’s Disease and how you can get involved, visit CCFA.com.
UPDATE: Larry Nance Jr. was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers with the No. 27 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. He just completed is rookie year with the Lakers, appearing in 63 contests and averaging 5.5 points and five rebounds in 20.1 minutes per game.
NBA Daily: Trae Young Looks To Be Next Up
Oklahoma’s Trae Young is taking college basketball by storm, and drawing comparisons to All-Star point guards.
When basketball fans glance across the college landscape to find the next wave of talent they expect to dominate the sport, they check in on the usual spots.
Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Michigan State, Kansas and UCLA are among the culprits. Norman, Oklahoma, and the Sooners, though? Well, they’re not a destination that comes to mind very often when debating what young player is in position to take the reins at the next level.
Until now, that is. Meet Trae Young.
Young is Oklahoma’s freshman point guard. He’s 6-foot-2, isn’t overly muscular, and operates up and down the court with a smoothness that’s eerily similar to the guy who plays the same position out in the Bay Area.
How he looks isn’t the only thing that draws comparisons from Young to Steph Curry. Look at the numbers, and the obscene production the 19-year-old point guard is putting up. At the moment, Young leads the entire country in points per game (28.7) and assists (10.4). Young has reached the 30-point plateau four times in eleven games, including his 43-point outburst against Oregon. He’s scored 29 points on two occasions, and twice more reached 28 points.
Young’s picture-perfect shooting form and effortless release from beyond the arc are what makes this teenager so lethal. But he’s not just a one-trick pony. On Dec. 20 against Northwestern State, Young tied the NCAA record with a 22-assist performance (to go along with his 26 points). It was the first time in 20 years a player had reached 20 points and 20 assists in the same game. In six of Young’s first 11 collegiate games, he’s reached double-digit assists.
The invigoration of Young into the Oklahoma offense has Lon Kruger’s 11-20 team from a year ago at 10-1 and ranked No. 17 in the country heading into Big 12 Conference play. Make no mistake about it, that’s large, if not wholly, because of the freshman point guard.
How exactly did the Sooners land a superstar player of this caliber, though?
Well, they almost didn’t.
Young’s college choice came down to his hometown Sooners (he attended Norman North High School right down the road) and typical blue-blood powerhouse Kansas. Even with the commitment of a five-star point guard, few, if any, saw this type of impact from Young right away.
Ranking No. 23 on ESPN’s Top 100 for the class of 2017, Young was behind three other point guards: Trevon Duval (Duke), Collin Sexton (Alabama) and Jaylen Hands (UCLA).
Expecting the supernova level star Young has become almost immediately would’ve been a bit overzealous in any prediction. But that’s what makes college basketball the marvel that it is. Young has looked like the best player in the country, on a team where, at just 19 years old, he is considered “the man,” and without the usual supporting cast that players get at Duke and Kentucky.
After a 31-point, 12-assist performance against Northwestern on Friday, opposing head coach Chris Collins couldn’t do anything but rave about the teenager that dominated his team.
“With how deep he can shoot it from, you have to extend out on him, and then it just opens the floor,” Collins said. “He does a great job. He changes speeds well and he is shifty. And so the moment you are kind of a little off balance, he does a great job getting into your body and kind of playing off your movements. He’s got incredible vision. I always knew he was an incredible scorer. But the one thing I think he is underrated is his ability to pass. I thought he made some great passes and found guys.”
While the comparisons between Young and Curry are obvious, Collins offered up his own version of the mold he believes Young is fitting into.
“I had the opportunity to coach Kyrie Irving at the same age, and he was similar like that before he got hurt,” Collins said about Young. “There was just a maturity to his game that he had. He knew how to change speeds. He looked like a veteran from day one and that’s how Trae is out there. He plays at his pace. He knows where he wants to go.
Ironically, 11 games were all Irving got to play at Duke during his freshman season, and he still managed to be drafted first overall. Young may have a bit more competition than Irving did come next June for the draft’s top spot, but just over a month into his rookie campaign in college, Young is looking every bit of the best player in the entire nation.
College Basketball Has A Money Problem, But No Solution
The FBI confirmed that college basketball has a big money problem. But it won’t go away until NCAA fixes their rules.
College basketball saw its world rocked on Tuesday when the FBI made a two-year long investigation into the illegal paying of amateur players public for all the world to see.
Ten people total were arrested and charged with fraud and corruption. Those men included active assistant coaches from Auburn, USC, Arizona, and Oklahoma State, along with a prominent executive from Adidas.
All the FBI did this week was confirm what was potentially the worst kept secret in college sports: that high-profile high school athletes receive under-the-table benefits to attend certain schools and keep certain relationships with shoe companies, agents, financial planners, etc. once they make their jump to the NBA.
As the curtain is pulled back on the backdoor dealings of the grassroots basketball scene and the public receives more confirmation about how some of these basketball powerhouse schools continuously get the best of the best, surely there will be more professional casualties. Already this probe has cost a Hall of Fame coach his job, as the University of Louisville announced Wednesday that Rick Pitino would be suspended from his duties. Pitino’s attorney later released in a statement that the coach “has, in effect, been fired.”
With the massive involvement the FBI seems to have in this matter, the smart guess would be to assume that Pitino isn’t the only prominent coach that will fall victim to this case. On Tuesday, Adidas executive Jim Gatto was arrested in the initial sweep by the authorities, making all of the schools with an Adidas sponsorship immediately look suspect. Just one day later, the FBI issued a subpoena to employees of Nike’s EYBL grassroots division, which runs their AAU basketball circuit.
These initial offenders appear to be the tip of the iceberg. Common sense would suggest that since the long arm of the law is now involved in how certain recruits make their college decisions things will certainly change. However, until the NCAA finds a better way to compensate their student-athletes, don’t hold your breath.
Yes, this is going to be a long and excruciating process for the NCAA. Once certain people involved are facing federal agents and the likes of jail time, they will turn over more information, dragging others down with them. For a while, maybe the recruiting process will get back to operating more organically. But in a multi-billion dollar business like college basketball, money will find its way back in.
Each year there are more than a few top prospects who come from families that are in need of assistance. That player, despite being just a kid, can be viewed as the family’s ticket out of their difficult situation. Those realities are what makes this entire scandal somewhat understandable. That certainly isn’t advocacy for cheating, but when you take into account the financial status of a high-profile player and his family, coupled with the impending millions that a university is set to make off of that individual, with no effective legal payout from the NCAA heading their way it almost makes the cause just.
Certainly, though, rules and laws were breached by these individuals and they will face the consequences as a result. The list of those involved will grow, and the pointed finger at who to blame will swing wildly in the direction of many. But until the conversation is had as to why this truly happening, nothing will ever change permanently for the better.
According to Forbes, Louisville’s team value in 2016 stood at $45.4 million, with their 2015 revenue reaching $45.8 million. Those are eye-popping numbers for a basketball team that doesn’t have to pay its players. An organization can only be as successful as its employees. So, while Louisville continues to be one of the nation’s top basketball programs as a result of their high-tier talent, their payout to these athletes reaches only to the price of tuition and room and board. Most of the players that help keep elite team’s like Louisville relevant don’t stay for more than a year or two.
In the documents released by the FBI, Gatto, agent Christian Dawkins and financial advisor Munish Sood are named directly as helping provide funding to a particular player.
The statement reads that Gatto, Sood, and Dawkins “conspired to illicitly funnel approximately $100,000 from company-1 to the family of Player-10, an All-American high school basketball player; to assist one or more coaches at University-6, a school sponsored by Company-1, and to further ensure that Player-6 ultimately retained the services of Dawkins and Sood and signed with Company-1 upon entering the NBA.”
Clear as day, the NCAA’s biggest problem is written in black and white by the FBI. These companies and agents know that players are more than willing to take money (truthfully, who wouldn’t?). When a player or player’s family recognizes their worth in a market that doesn’t let them cash in on it, their recruiting process becomes marred with wink-wink agreements from the schools that are recruiting said player, and ultimately the decision is made to attend whichever school is willing to bend the rules the most.
On Tuesday, the world saw for certain that this time the rules were bent to their breaking point. Dark days are ahead for college basketball during this scandal, but until the NCAA develops a reasonable way to compensate their athletes, the problem will never fully disappear.
Is Lauri Markkanen Finland’s Dirk Nowitzki?
Draft prospect Lauri Markkanen talks to Michael Scotto about preparing for the draft and his NBA prospects.
Not many 20-year-olds have drawn comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki and have an opportunity to be a basketball ambassador for an entire nation. Lauri Markkanen is not your average 20-year-old.
“First of all, it’s an honor to be compared to him,” Markkanen told Basketball Insiders. “It’s probably not fair to him to have some young guy compared to a Hall of Fame player and champion. We have similarities because of the height, being from Europe and shooting. But I have a long way to go before I’m in the same category as him. Hopefully, I can get there one day.”
Markkanen, a 7-foot prospect from Finland, shot 49 percent from the field, 42 percent from downtown and 84 percent from the foul line in his freshman season at Arizona. Nowitzki has shot 47 percent from the field, 38 percent from downtown and 88 percent from the foul line in his 19-year career.
A few weeks ago, video footage surfaced of Markkanen draining 18 straight 3-pointers from the corner.
— Michael Lelchitski (@mike_sig) May 29, 2017
“He has the most ready NBA skill of any player in the NBA draft,” a Western Conference executive told Basketball Insiders. “He’s the best shooter coming into the draft in my opinion. That’s one skill you can rely on.”
Markkanen isn’t just a standstill shooter. He’s lethal in pick-and-pop sets, and can move off the ball and attack off the dribble.
“He has a lot of similarities to a guy like Ryan Anderson,” another Western Conference executive told Basketball Insiders. “I think later in the season he showed more versatility to his game. He’s shown that he has more to his offensive package with his ability to post up, which will only get better as he gets stronger. He has a good enough handle to create space and is tall enough where his shot will be hard to contest.”
As the league emphasizes floor spacing more than ever before, Markkanen could be a matchup nightmare in small ball lineups.
“He’s an excellent shooter with range for his size,” an Eastern Conference scout told Basketball Insiders. “He knows how to play and has good overall fundamentals. Center will be his best position as a stretch-five. He has deceptive mobility. He’s a below the rim player, not a rim protector, nor a top rebounder now.”
While Markkanen’s shooting ability is unquestioned, he believes other areas of his game are underrated.
“I think I am the best shooter in this class,” Markkanen told Basketball Insiders. “I think my ceiling as a rebounder and defender is higher than people may think. And my work ethic is something I take a lot of pride in, which will help elevate my game.”
Scouts and executives believe Markkanen will need to improve his lateral quickness to compete better on the defensive end at the NBA level. He will also have to get stronger to fight for rebounding position in the post, but that’s a natural progression for any rookie coming into the league.
Unlike most foreign players, Markkanen skipped an important adjustment. He came overseas and got a chance to adjust to lifestyle on and off the court in the States while attending the University of Arizona.
“As a player, the physicality of the game and the pace was different and took some getting used to,” Markkanen told Basketball Insiders. “Otherwise, the adjustment was not that bad. As a student, there was more work than back home, but it was not too difficult to me.”
While Markkanen enjoyed his time at Arizona and is looking forward to NBA life as a rookie in the States, he believes he can eventually help grow the game of basketball back home in Finland.
“That is one of my biggest goals,” Markkanen told Basketball Insiders. “Hopefully my story can inspire more kids back home to learn the game and enjoy it. I look forward to many future projects back home and hopefully continued success of the national team program.”
Markkanen’s father, Pekka, played for Kansas and was a member of the Finland National Team. At 15 years old, Markkanen made his Second Division debut for BC Jyvaskyla. At Helsinki Basketball Academy, Hanno Mottola – one of two all-time Finnish NBA players – was one of Markkanen’s coaches, as DraftExpress noted. Markkanen’s international debut for the Finland U-18 National Team came at the 2015 FIBA Europe U-18 Championship. A year later, Markkanen was the top scorer in the 2016 FIBA Europe U-20 Championship, averaging 24.9 points per game, and participated in the NIKE Hoops Summit.
“As a player, the kid dominated at the junior level,” a Western Conference executive told Basketball Insiders. “In big games, he stepped up. He led Arizona to an incredible record.”
Arizona won the Pac-12 Tournament and was a No. 2 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament. Markkanen led all freshmen in offensive rating (134.1) and made as many 3-pointers as any 7-footer in college since 2000, as DraftExpress noted. As a result, Markkanen was named a member of the Pac-12 First Team. Arizona eventually lost 73-71 against No. 11 Xavier in the West Regional Semifinal.
While Markkanen hopes to become a role model for children in Finland and inspire them to play the game, he has other goals in mind before hanging up his sneakers down the road.
“Winning an NBA championship, winning an Olympic medal and being an All-Star,” Markkanen told Basketball Insiders.
Markkanen’s journey will begin Thursday night at the NBA Draft, where colleague Steve Kyler and I both have him going to Minnesota with the seventh pick in our latest mock draft.
However, the Timberwolves may trade their pick for an established veteran or as part of a package to acquire Jimmy Butler. With the uncertainty of the draft in mind, why should any team select him?
“I think I am unique as a player,” Markkanen replied. “I am a very hard worker and give everything on the court. I am going to do everything in my power to help my team win.”
While becoming the next Nowitzki is the ceiling for Markkanen’s career, becoming a basketball ambassador and role model for young children in Finland could be Markkanen’s greatest accomplishment by the time he hangs up his sneakers.