When you think of Finnish sports, one won’t bring up basketball right away. It is probably ice hockey that will be mentioned first. Basketball has grown in the last years as the national team qualified for the first time for the World Cup in 2014 and played at 5 Eurochampionships since 2011 and finished 7th in the last one which was their best result ever. Recently Finish head coach Gordon Herbert led Germany to a Bronze at the 2022 Eurochampionships which was their best finish since gaining the Silver in 2005 in Belgrade. Over the years they have produced solid players and with their best being current NBA player Lauri Markkanen. But there have also been other well known players like Hanno Mottola, Pettieri Koponen, Sasu Salin and Teemu Rannikko. There are many interesting and skilled Finish players playing in Europe, but also lesser known ones like Shawn Hopkins (198-PG-1995, college: N.Georgia, agency: Blacktop Management) who has carved out a fine career. He also had the opportunity to play 3 years in the NCAA with lesser known basketball school Troy, but there he was very lucky to play against top schools Kentucky and Duke that produces future NBA players at a high rate. It was no surprise that he would play against many future NBA players. But there is a difference between NBA player and NBA star. He battled against NBA stars Jayson Tatum and Shai Gillgeous-Alexander and remembers those duels as if it was yesterday. He only played 2 minutes against Duke and Tatum, but logged 15 minutes against Kentucky. Everyone in the arena knew Tatum would be special. ‘Playing against these guys was sweet. Not a lot of guys get a chance to witness it. Don’t remember too much from my two minutes but the game itself was definitely an experience. For sure. Everyone in the gym knew Tatum had it. No surprise he’s a superstar in the next level as well. Playing against Kentucky is a memory I’ll have with me forever! Guarding Kevin Knox and making that game a close one’,remembered Shawn Hopkins who hasn’t seen the sequel to the classic Coming to America, but it’s on his list to view. He knows that there aren’t many Finish players that can boast that they played against Jayson Tatum and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Miles Schmidt-Scheuber(bottom head slighty cut off) with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in Boston in 2021
The forward who lists Jayson Tatum as the toughest player that he faced in the NCAA was born on May 9, 1995 in Nokia, Finland. He began his basketball career with BC Nokia playing with the youth teams. He made the jump to the men’s team in 2011 making his debut on September 30th against BC Jyvaskyla as a young 16 year old. He would go on to play 4 seasons playing 101 games. Twice he averaged 8.0ppg in a season and once 10,0ppg. He played for many coaches in his 4 years and remembers one guy in particular as being the most vital in his early development. ‘Ville Tuominen gave a scrawny kid a chance in the men’s league for the first time. He showed me that I could play with the big guys. Playing with older men early in my career definitely helped me with reading the game and learning little tricks and details’, remembered Shawn Hopkins. In these years he also gained valuable experience with the Finish U-16, U-18 and U-20 national teams. He played at the U-16 and U-18 European championships in North Macedonia and U-20 European championships in Bosnia. He then caped off his good junior national team career with a Gold at the Eurochampionships in Hungary averaging 7.9ppg, 2.9rpg, 1.6spg, FGP: 63.6%, 3PT: 38.1%, FT: 75.0%. ‘Winning the U20 Gold might be my favorite moment representing Finland. We had a close-knit group of very talented guys’, said Shawn Hopkins.
The forward who lists Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaq ,Steph Curry, and Lauri Markkanen on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore then decided to get a total different experience going over the big pond to play at Troy (NCAA) from 2015-2018 playing a total of 72 games. He never was able to find his niche there never averaging more than 3,6ppg. Even though he had to suffer some growing pains in the NCAA where he went from 13 minutes as a freshman to only 5 minutes in his sophomore season, he understood it was all part of the grind to help him get to where he is today. ‘D1 basketball is a great experience. Everyone wants to go to the league. Quicker guards and everyone is athletic. Second year was tough for me for sure. Went through a lot that season but it only makes or breaks a player, and here I am, still’, warned Shawn Hopkins. He then made a change of scenery and played one more season in the States with the University of North Georgia (NCAA2) averaging 16.1ppg, 5.7rpg, 2.1apg, FGP: 43.2%, 3PT: 35.8%, FT: 71.6%. Being able to come in and be a massive contributor was huge for his development at that time. ‘I gained confidence with the ball, and with more responsibility’, added Shawn Hopkins. He had some huge games against Lander with 29 points and hit Emmanuel with 26 points. He will never forget head coach Chris Faulkner who made a big impact on his career. ‘Coach Faulkner gave me an opportunity. He’s one of the blessings in my career. He let me do my thing and gain confidence’, expressed Shawn Hopkins.
The Finish national player who never battled Roderick English in daily 1-1 games at North Georgia but remembers the games against Quincy Poiter as not being fun came back to Europe, but didn’t make the automatic jump to a high league, but had to return back home for the 2019-2020 season and pay some more dues. But at least he began at a familiar place at BC Nokia where he had begun his career. He now made a jump playing in the first division Korisliiga playing 37 games averaging 7.9ppg, 3.2rpg, 1.1apg, FGP: 49.2%, 3PT: 32.8%, FT: 74.6%. He didn’t have the overpowering stats, but he was a different and changed player due to his 4 years state side. ‘I was a more mature player. I had more confidence to shoot the ball and also go to the rim’, remembered Shawn Hopkins. Near the end of the season he had some big games in wins over Lahti with 20 points and 19 points against Ura Basket. The next season he had his break through as a professional playing for Pyrinto Tampere (Korisliiga) averaging 13.8ppg, 4.1rpg, 1.7apg, FGP: 47.5%, 3PT: 37.8%, FT: 62.9%. He was able to take major responsibility and had big games in the playoffs against Kataja and Kauhajoki, but then had to suffer losing to the Helsinki SeaGulls as ex Fraport Skyliner Shawn Huff and top easyCredit BBL player Kendale McCullum was to much for his team. ‘Huff’s team was in desperation mode in this game. They were expected to be in the finals. They brought the anger and it showed. Shawn is a legend who’s taught me a lot as a leader. McCullum couldn’t be stopped in Finland at times’, said Shawn Hopkins. He scored in double figures in 26 games including 25 points against his ex team BC Nokia and 23 points against Korihait. He will never forget explosive teammate Marcus Lewis who always had a dunk ready for each game like the one between his legs and others. ‘Lewis is one of the best teammates I’ve ever played with. Unstoppable scorer. Favorite dunk was definitely against Ura Basket off the backboard pass to himself’, remembered Shawn Hopkins. Last season his basketball trek continued in Iceland a country that offers the beauty of nature while on the court having many Americans with chips on their shoulders as big as Mount Rushmore. It was here that he had to endure again that the basketball journey is a long one. ‘I’ve always travelled a lot with the junior national teams, and lived in college far from home, so being in Iceland was more like a moment of realization that ‘this is where the grind starts’, warned Shawn Hopkins. He balled for with Stjarnan (Iceland-Subway League) averaging 14.7ppg, 6.1rpg, 1.6apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 49.2%, 3PT: 33.6%, FT: 64.8%. He played a solid series against Valur, but in the end couldn’t get by them. ‘It was tough for sure. We couldn’t get the pieces together to get an answer against them. For a moment it hurt. But in a series like that you can’t let nothing bother you, empty head. They had a strong team who also went on to win the championship’, expressed Shawn Hopkins. He scored in double figures in 20 games including 29 points against IR and 25 points against Breidablik.
The Finish native who tries to take the quiet side on the famous GOAT debate between Joran and Lebron, but is with Jordan is playing his first season with SCM CSU Craiova (Romania-Liga Nationala). All his hard work the last years paid off as he is playing in the highest league so far in his career for a well known Romanian club and is playing international club play in the Fiba Europe Cup. The club is up and coming in Romania and has reached the next round of the Fiba Europe Cup. It is apparent to feel that a special winning culture is developing with Craiova. ‘With coach Vitaly comes a great winning culture. He has brought a very ambitious mindset to not only us players but also the whole organization. We’ve grown as a unit so much, and we believe we can win by executing our plan, playing hard and together. Everyone has a responsibility’, warned Shawn Hopkins. A big part of the success has been the trio of Americans with ex easyCredit BBL player Giordan Watson, Cortez Edwards and Demonte Flannigan. ‘Watson brings us a mature leading role. He knows exactly when to get others going and when to attack himself. Flannigan is the most athletic guy I have ever played with. He can rip the rim down and move like a guard against big defenders. Edwards is a sneak athlete that catches people off guard. Quickest defender and explosive at the rim’, stressed Shawn Hopkins. Hopkins is putting up solid stats in Romania averaging 9,2ppg, 2,6rpg and 1,1apg while in the Fiba Europe Cup has upped his game averaging 12,8ppg, 2,5rpg and 1,3spg. His big inspiration is Kobe Bryant and still believes in 2023 that having played at N Georgia was so instrumental for his game. ‘UNG was a great place where I started to grow as a player more. I had a tad more freedom as a big guard, which is why I got to work on a lot of other stuff too to add in my bag and gain confidence’, added Shawn Hopkins. But he is so much more than just a versatile offensive player, but also a solid defender. He knows that being able to heighten that part of his game will help him continue to climb the basketball ladder up. ‘I always want to start from defense, I take it very personally. I see myself as a quality defender with quicker feet and my size. I think a lot of defense is about the mentality. Also at a higher lever you need to be more physically ready’, warned Shawn Hopkins. He simply wants to become the best defender on the court, but also be better at reading ball screens. After many years in Finland, his career is now starting to take off abroad. After a tough but solid season in Iceland, he is making the next step in Romania, but the journey won’t end here. ‘Playing abroad has always been a dream and climbing that ladder is the plan’, warned Shawn Hopkins. He definitely will always have entertaining stories about Tatum and Gilgeous-Alexander and others no matter where his basketball journey takes him in the next years.