There’s no question which team has the best, incredible, spectacular and most outrageous fans here at the Eurobasket in Prague and that’s Finland. The Scandinavian nation has descended upon the O2 Arena in mass numbers as over 6,000 supporters wearing blue-and-white have made it seem that they are the host country as they have made their mark with their special “Wolf Howl” cheer.
The person behind the bench for the Finns is Lassi Tuovi who is a rising star among coaches as the 35-year old has been the tactician for French League team SIG Strasbourg since 2020 while having also taken over the reins of the Susijengi, or “Wolf Pack” this past summer.
Just ahead of Finland’s huge game against Serbia, The Sports Rabbi had the honor and privilege to sit with Tuovi at the team’s hotel in central Prague to discuss his life in basketball, philosophy, his dreams and of course how he got started in the business.
“That’s an interesting question since I wasn’t a very good player. I had the opportunity to become a practice player in my own hometown Lappeenranta which back in 2005 won the championship for the first time ever. I wasn’t playing that season as I was injured so I helped the head coach watching film and working with the players, rebounding the basketball and I was an all around guy for the team.”
While he continued to stay involved, Tuovi was offered a job with the club to work as a coach and that was something he grabbed at the forts opportunity, “At some point I really started to enjoy it and I got better but the team offered me a contract as an employee at 18 years old and without hesitation I took it. I’ve been working on the tactical side of basketball since then and have been lucky having worked with so many head coaches. I fell in love with the tactics side, but most of all I like teaching and that is the best.”
The Lappeenranta native kept honing his trade as he worked under some very influential and top level coaches during his time as an assistant for 12 years with the national team along with Besiktas, Gravelines and Strasbourg.
“I need to thank my old club because the people there pushed me and helped get me a professional contract. Afterwards being a head coach at the age of 24 in the top league in Finland which is not very common, but I had the opportunity. Then it was joining the national team with coach Henrik Dettmann has been the biggest impact of my career and I was able to make a short cut to top level basketball.”
“I had an opportunity to learn what it is to be high level standards, how players work and then last but not least with coach Collet. The time we shared everyday in the office talking about basketball and life but also talking about X’s and O’s as he shared everything at a time I enjoyed a lot. I’ve been lucky to be around these top coaches.”
Tuovi is also unique in the fact that he not only watches and learns from basketball coaches but watches other coaches in various different disciplines which gives him a chance to expand his horizons, “One of the things a I like to do a lot is to learn from coaches other than those in basketball. Other bosses and their leadership. We should not be in a bubble and only look at our own sport because there are a lot of sports. My father is a theatre director and that’s where my background is since I was 16 years old. So recruiting the right players and puts them in the right role comes from the theatre side.”
“All these things help you understand that at the end, basketball is one part and you need to build a team and you need to build confidence because without that X’s and O’s doesn’t matter. More than other basketball coaches I try to look outside of the box, not inside the room but outside of the window.”
Finland is fortunate to have one of the top players in the NBA in one Lauri Markkanen who was just recently traded to the Utah Jazz from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Markkanen is a fabulous players on the court but is also a very special person off of it Tuovi explained, “First of all Lauri as a human being is first, he doesn’t need any special things for the practices and wants to be one of the guys before he gets the basketball in his hands. I think he will be an even better player in a few years when we have the Eurobasket in our home country in 2025.”
“Our goal is not just this team, because for years, coach Dettmann before me and the captains my current assistants Mikko Larkas Hanno Mottola on the bench still have hierarchy and the values for the team. So for any players that comes in like a young Koponen or Salin it’s automatically a thing that you win to honor and it doesn’t matter if you are one or the other, you are all the same. The Finnish mentality is that you need to do things all together and believe in each other and work harder, otherwise it doesn’t give you good results.”
Part of the fine development that Finland has been working in is the program that has been put together at the youth levels but it’s also about seeing where the coaches can work to improve the players who are at their disposal.
“First of all they had a good education and the kids have been able to work coaches and have developed. Last summer they were part of the Challenger program for Under-18 which I was helping to run. We also had programs at the Universade last summer in Japan and we have been educating them so they would be ready for the national team.”
Tuovi continued to expand in his thoughts, “On the other hand, the spectre for a small country is that we should not think of what we don’t have and what we can not do. If you always think that we are always too small or not strong enough and we don’t have this and don’t have that then we won’t get any results. We should think that maybe he’s not the tallest or strongest but we can do this and look at the strengths as to what we do have. We know that the young players have a lot of room to improve and they can use their own strengths. This tournament is also becoming a trust between the coaching staff and players. As I trust them to do what they can do.”
As for the future generation, Tuovi feels that it’s a positive for the Finnish youth to be able to look up and admire while striving to be like some of the players who set a fine example but it’s not only for those playing but coaches as well.
“I think that it’s important for young kids to have idols if it’s Markkanen or Koponen for example. The future is bright and while we are talking about the players I should mention that I am very proud about the system that we have built, the coaches in Finland. We have a good program with many high level potential coaches and we have some right now after having a coach being named coach of the year on the German Bundesliga in Tuomas Iisalo, so we are already there. But I feel that we will have better players and also have a bright future because we will also have better coaches that will also help develop in Europe over the next few years which will also develop our system, so I’m very excited for the future.”
At such a young age, Tuovi is at a point in his career that if he would want to take a further leap he could definitely do just that and continue to climb up the ladder of success. However, roght now he’s in a good place and he’s content keep working hard and see where the future may lead him.
“I think that sitting here as a head coach of the Finnish national team at the age of 35 at the same time for the third season running a big former Euroleague organization you should dream, work hard and dream big while on the other hand you never know what happens tomorrow so the best thing is to enjoy this moment.”