Boiling like Salin, glacial like Sasu
The growth of the Basketball Champions League saw a rise in media coverage in all of Europe. This week, we hand the floor over to Cesare Milanti from Overtime, who will give us his insights on Sasu Salin, from Lenovo Tenerife.
PAVIA (Italy) - It's amazing how two words so far apart semantically can, if translated into the world of basketball, get so close. Outside of the court, something "icy" can never be associated with a "hot" feeling. Watch the first quarter of the Basketball Champions League final between Tenerife and Manresa: Sasu Salin has just questioned your vocabulary.
- First offensive possession for the Canarias, Dani Perez arrives late while the Finnish is coming off the screen: he gets up and shoots. Three.
- Take the previous action and do a CTRL+C, CTRL+V from late-timers, with the substantial difference that Bako's close-out turns into a too tempting aisle not to be explored. Runner climbing on the rim. Five.
- Shermadini brings the experience to another level with one of those perimeter blocks that only the long experts at this level can perform, Thomasson crashes and Salin can only give continuity to his shot. Bang. Eight.
- Always on the left side of the court, always coming out of the blocks and once again puncturing the defensive cover of Manresa, bewildered by the absence of the Georgian center around there. Fitipaldo's assist puts him in rhythm, the first step is still burning, Moneke stretches his right hand but the trajectory is soft and unreachable. Ten.
Sasu Salin started strong, very strong. When he gets up from the arc or with the tear on the first step that leaves planted the opponent defender is glacial, as the temperatures at home; and if he puts himself in rhythm, just like in this 100% from the field turned into 10 crucial points for the start of the game by Tenerife, he's as hot as the breath of Teide, the real master of the island to which Dante Alighieri would have dedicated some verses of his Commedia. We're talking about Hell, of course, metaphorically comparable to what the number 10 had spent on the parquet of the Bilbao Arena two days before this lightning start.
"I missed some in the semifinal, so I had to make some shots tonight." He said so at the end of the triumph over Manresa, remembering the glacial performance - yes, in that other sense - against Hapoel Holon: 6 points, 2/8 from the field with 1/6 from the long distance. In the closing act of the Final Four of the Basketball Champions League, his boxscore will be much more interesting: 18 points, 7/11 from the field with 4/8 from three-point range.
The conquest of his third trophy with Tenerife (the second international after the Intercontinental Cup 2020) is the icing on the cake of a season that has made him the best three-point shooter in the history of the competition: with 64 triples in the BCL 2021-22 (record for a single season), it was brought to 144 overall. No one like him, and perhaps it would be time to consider him more in the debate around the specialists of this feature at the continental level: "I know I’m a pretty good shooter. This year we've been playing very good as a team, my shooting has been helping it a lot. Both in BCL and ACB (where he shot 45.4% and 40.5% respectively from the arc, ed), I've proven that I'm pretty good at it. I don't mind if people don't consider or put me in the list of their best shooters. I let the numbers speak for themselves: I know what I'm capable of doing and I'm happy if somebody mentions or notices it, but it's a tough world where you have so many good players. Maybe I'm not the flashiest guy with amazing spin moves before the shot: I don't do crazy stuff, I just take my shots and I usually make them. I'm always ready to help and score some baskets."
Sasu Salin aka Wannabe Iceman
The Sasu Salin who has recently turned 31 is now a complete player, who likes to be included in the circle of 3&D specialists. The numbers give him reason, because if as for the three-point shots proved over and over again to be an ideal element. In the two decisive games in the Basque Country, he also collected six steals: five in the semi-final vs. Holon (with as many turnovers as Joe Ragland, his guarding opponent) and one in the final vs. Manresa, in addition to a clever defensive play that we will see in detail later.
It is thought that a boy like this, who specialized so specifically in a particular aspect of the game, had an innate passion for basketball from the very beginning. Instead, on the small screen of Salin house in Malmi, during the 90s, were broadcasted more games of Ajax than of the NBA: "When I was little, it wasn't so easy to connect. I wasn't actually following so much basketball when I was very young, I was more a football fan: Jari Litmanen used to be my childhood idol, even more than any basketball player. That's why I picked number 10 when I was younger. Different sports, but I took a little bit of football to basketball."
🥰 Pasar a Semifinales de la #CopaACB, ganar, disfrutar con tu gente de Lenovo Tenerife @CB1939Canarias, pasar un ratito con tu familia y un besito de tu hija.— Liga Endesa (@ACBCOM) February 17, 2022
¿Se puede pedir más? Con una sonrisa de oreja a oreja va a dormir @sasusalin10 hoy en Granada. pic.twitter.com/R7HLszgYqi
When a few weeks ago he posted a photo in the company of Stella, his daughter, wearing a basketball jersey of The Mozart, curiosity emerged: "Sometimes you saw some highlights on TV, but I couldn't say that Drazen Petrovic was my idol back then. But of course, starting to become older and watching more when internet was available, for sure I went on watching his style of play. Amazing player." On June 28, 2000, Hanno Möttölä joined the NBA and was the first Finn to play on a strip-and-star parquet, well before Lauri Markkanen landed on US soil. There's someone who keeps a memory (or maybe not?) of that other prophet in their homeland: "When Möttölä was drafted, I remember I went to one of his training camps. He signed me a water bottle. I don't know if my wife threw it away already," he says laughing.
But Hanno wasn't the first countryman to get the current Tenerife player interested in basketball: "When I started following basketball more, my idols were Teemu Rannikko, who used to play also in Italy before, and Petteri Koponen, who played in the same club where I started to play basketball in Finland, Espoon Honka." There is nothing better than emulating their idols, and Sasu knows this well, since with the two above, as well as with Möttölä, he shared the jersey of the National Team of which he is now one of the undisputed leaders: "I was always dreaming about playing for the National team. Even with Petteri, I played with him during one year in Finland, in Honka, before he left for Virtus Bologna. Teemo and Möttölä were bigger stars at that time and I got the opportunity to play with them. Amazing guys, I really had fun with them and I learned so much from their experience."
When he's asked what other Finn's jersey he would have liked to wear in another life, he's not mentioning basketball: "If there was a possibility, I would surely be like Kimi Räikkönen. I mean, the career he had, the coolness he has. The Iceman has been amazing: he never gives a fuck! Amazing character, he has done great things for our country." I can assure you that when the Tenerife celebrations in Bilbao began, the result was different from a classic radio team made in Räikkönen. Considering the choice of Sasu about which character he would be in TV series, the association with Kimi takes on even more value: "I can be Tyrion Lannister, the imp, the little fella. He's doing little dirty stuff, finding his way to succeed."
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A Finnish in Spain
After a longshot by Jari Litmanen and a speed up by Mika Häkkinen, the greats of American basketball and the country idols a few steps away come in Sasu's thoughts. Among them, Teemu Rannikko, who after five years in Italy moved to Union Olimpija, where he won the championship and the Slovenian Cup, as well as the three-point shooting competition in the Slovenian All-Star Game in 2006.
A Finnish shooter does well there apparently, because it is in the same green and white that Salin plays his first experience outside of his country: "I think for me it was the best that could happen at that moment of my career. Being a 19 year old, still very raw as a player, going to a place like Ljubljana where they like to practice and to develop young players. I had also informations from Teemu Rannikko who used to play there before: he had nothing but good things to say about the city, the team and the organization. At that age, it was the best opportunity for me." On the table, however, there were also other very tempting offers: "When I was considering the first place where I would play abroad, the choice would have been made among three teams: Union Olimpija, Skyliners Frankfurt and Virtus Bologna. But at that time it happened that I went to Ljubljana: happy about that, I can’t say anything bad about that experience."
The native of Helsinki had the opportunity to share the parquet with players of the highest level. In the period of the NBA Lockout 2011, Danny Green joins the Slovenians, and was the protagonist of a 23-point performance against the Polish Prokom Gdynia in EuroLeague. In that year, Salin is still a young man coming off the bench, where he learns a lot from teammates who had or would have had American experiences in curriculum: "Playing with Aron Baynes, Davis Bertans, Danny Green and many other great players was very inspiring. Danny came with the lockout, Bertans didn't have a really big chance in Olimpija but then he shined with Partizan and Baskonia, while Baynes was a big crazy guy. Just seeing great players around you motivates you to work harder and harder."
The man you simply cannot afford to leave open in @BasketballCL - 55 of 118 3ptrs (46.6%).— JEFF TAYLOR (@JeffreyNTaylor) April 7, 2022
In last night's 1-point win over Tofas, finished 8 of 10. 🐺🎯💣🇫🇮🔥🧑🚒
Best shooter in competition? You betcha! 🙌🏀
The beginning of his Spanish adventure comes after five years in Slovenia, where he collects 3 National Cups and a status of reliable shooter coming out of the blocks. The chance to continue to show his talent in the continental field comes with Gran Canaria, where Aito Garcia Reneses wants him as an integral part of his frenetic style of play, made of many transitioning shots. A game which he would also experience in his later times in Malaga and Tenerife: "Spain has been great. If I had to turn things around with Ljubljana, playing in Spain first and now in Union Olimpija, it would surely be harder. As a young guy, you need to practice more for sure, and we were doing so twice a day, pretty much everyday. In Spain you have more freedom, the coaches give you the opportunity to play your game more than just follow strict basketball rules, like they're used to in Ljubljana."
With Gran Canaria, he wins a Spanish Supercup in 2016, thanks to the wins over Baskonia and Barcelona, in which the contribution of Kyle Kuric under the guidance of Luis Casimiro is vital. For two years, Salin begins to taste decisive games, both in Europe and in the most talented domestic league of the Old Continent. With teammates such as Kevin Pangos and Alen Omic, he loses against Errick McCollum's Galatasaray, Vlado Micov and Stéphane Lasme in the semi-finals of the EuroCup. Also in Copa del Rey, when that Real Madrid dragged by Gustavo Ayón is too superior to manage an upset. It is however an important experience for the development of Sasu, in which he becomes even more aware of his scoring abilities: "Aito's system was very simple. We had a couple of horns and diamonds to start the offense, with some options of course, but he wanted us to be very free. He always used to say: “What you are good at, do it on the court”. I've always been a shooter, so they encouraged me to shoot even more. But generally nobody has never told me to not shoot. Kevin Pangos and Kyle Kuric fit very well in that system, and Casimiro played with Kuric as well. They're great players."
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A journey still in progress but that is bearing fruit, since according to Salin "between Malaga and the Canary Islands, Spain has been amazing for me and my family." Between a 'vamos' and a 'claro que si', curiosity about his level in the language emerges: "My spanish level is… okay. I manage, I could be more fluent but I'm a little bit lazy too. I don't understand everything, I should perhaps study a little bit more." Should it be useful, however, Sasu Salin can explain to you by sign and thread how to prepare a Finnish sauna worthy of its name: "You guys (such as: everyone but Finnish people, ed) use the timer: let me say it, don’t use that. If you go to sauna, enjoy. Usually you have to throw some hot water on the stones. It's about how you feel, you don't have to check every minute how long you are going to stay inside. It's about the feeling, not the timing. But there's no tricks, it's very simple." Easy, right?
Sasu Salin's Finland
In all these years in which his name has become more and more popular at high levels, even outside Finland, Sasu Salin has been able to play as protagonist with his national team. After sharing it with his childhood idols, now he is the leader of the team, along with Lauri Markkanen, now a Cleveland Cavaliers player but not always present in the FIBA windows with Henrik Dettmann's team, on that bench since 2004.
In addition to Sasu Salin, several Finns took away some satisfaction in the basketball season that is about to end: Elias Valtonen was with Manresa on the other side of the court in the Basketball Champions League Final, Tuomas Iisalo won the Coach of the Year award in the Bundesliga dragging Bonn and Mikael Jantunen won the Sixth Man of the Year award in Belgium, also collecting some valuable minutes in BCL with Oostende. Something to be proud of: "It's very nice to see those guys doing an amazing job. Players like Valtonen and Jantunen are showing already their potential even though they are in the early stages of their career. Talking about Valtonen, I think it's amazing that he went from the second division in Germany all the way to the ACB and the BCL Final Four with Manresa. He was prepared for this, he's doing an amazing job. The fact that Pedro Martinez is giving him the opportunity to play is great for him. I'm already an old fart (he laughs, ed), so it's nice to see young guys coming up. We have a very bright future ahead of us with the National team."
Sasu Salin, with compatriot Lassi Tuovi, SIG Strasbourg Head Coach
As anticipated, applauses should also be given to those who sit on the bench, as Iisalo and Lassi Tuovi, also protagonist (of an episode of Mic'd up as well) in BCL with Strasbourg and assistant coach of the Finnish national team: "As coaching, Iisalo winning Coach of the Year in Germany is a huge merit, well deserved: Bonn has an amazing style, Tuomas already did a great job with Crailsheim Merlins and he was close to become head coach of Zalgiris Kaunas. He has a lot of good things coming ahead of him, just like Lassi Tuovi in Strasbourg. We have very good coaches and players coming, nothing but good for the National team."
At the end of June, Finland will face two complex challenges against Sweden and Croatia, while in September it's EuroBasket time, in Prague's Group D with Czech Republic, Serbia, Poland, Israel and Netherlands, coached by Maurizio Buscaglia. A difficult group, but Sasu believes that they have all the cards to overcome it: "It's a tough group but we have a really good chance to advance to the next round. We've been showing in the previous windows that we can play against great teams, just like Slovenia (away win 79-83 with 4/8 from the arc by Salin, ed): they were missing Doncic, but we didn't have Markannen at that time… We have potential and if we figure out everything at the right time, we have a good chance to even go further than ever before."
From ice to volcanoes
In addition to being a key piece of his National team puzzle, Sasu Salin is obviously a fundamental element in Txus Vidorreta's Tenerife, which is based on the foundations of experts such as Marcelinho Huertas and Giorgi Shermadini. The latter spent six years with the Finn: one in Slovenia, two in Malaga and three (and counting) in Tenerife. Almost to think that Sasu spends more time doing P&R than with his family: "Luckily I don't see Shermadini as more as my wife (he laughs, ed), but it's close! It’s been funny with him. My first year out of Finland I met Gio and now we've been playing many years together already. He's a great player, a great guy who makes basketball easier for his teammates. I think that what has been built around Gio and Marcelinho here in Tenerife makes it easier for the others to play the game and be themselves on the court. Aniano Cabrera, our GM, has been doing a really good job." And it doesn't matter if with Kyle Wiltjer they didn't find some Cubans in the locker room of Bilbao Arena: "Unfortunately, we didn't find any cigars," he admits laughing.
In one of the most memorable games in the history of this club, the most significant photo portrays Sasu Salin, with a scream that seems to shout "victory". He told me how it went: "That photo was taken after I took an offensive foul against Chima Moneke, at halfcourt. It was the end of the game, last minutes of the fourth quarter. It was against Moneke, who is Manresa's main guy: he's always going hard. In that moment I felt we were very close to win the title. Emotions started to come out and the BCL took a very nice picture, I really love it. It's one of my favourite photos of myself." One of those to hang in the room, or to put in the album of memories along with those of the family. And who knows if his daughter will ask him where he was when it was taken, how much he counted on his people winning: "It's harder to make 18 points in the final than being a dad, for sure! I really enjoy being a dad and after the first one I've had already a couple of years of experience. Now the second one is coming, so I'm already prepared for that too!" Always in Spain, always on the island.
Even though he does not close the door to the Italian championship ("When I was younger, I was always saying that one day I would have liked to play in Italy. I would never say no. If the opportunity comes, why not: Italy is a great country where to play, I've met a lot of Italian teams in BCL, EuroCup or EuroLeague. Why not?"), in fact, it is in Tenerife that he wants to continue to stay, at least until the end of next season, when his contract will expire.
The goal is simple and well known: repeating again, as done by San Pablo Burgos in the BCL back-to-back. Salin uses the perfect words to express this concept: "In this kind of organization like Tenerife, automatically you think about the next championship. They've been showing it for six years now that they really belong in the Final Four or fighting for the BCL title. You don't need to talk about it anymore. We've enjoyed the moment when we won it, but we're aware that we have to do it again. It was great what Burgos did last year, winning it twice in a row. Tenerife also wants to join the list and wins it back to back. Talking about my contract, I'm really confident here and I'm really enjoying my time in Tenerife. It is the perfect place to play and enjoy basketball ."
Loose on the court like lava on his Nordic genetics, glowing when he takes rhythm and cold in decision making, lightning and rapacious Sasu Salin is dichotomous in his lethal nature on the court. Finland and the Canarias blend perfectly into a glacial but boiling identity. Give him a play in which he can come out of the blocks and a ball to shoot behind the 6.75m line: he will prove that these two adjectives, so distant from each other, can be synonym. From the release to the moment when the net moves harmoniously, he will have already changed a couple of physics laws..