15 Utah Their Finn de siecle star must get tougher if the Utes are to have a happy new year

November 15, 1999

In a recent poll of Finnish sports journalists, Hanno Mottola was
voted the finest basketball player in Finland, which is like
being voted the best bartender in Salt Lake City. "It certainly
doesn't mean I am famous," the 6'10" senior forward admits. "If I
wasn't so tall, I don't think anybody back home would even notice
me."

Mottola has a long way to go to attain the national celebrity of
Finnish sports icons like hockey's Teemu Selanne and Formula One
driver Mika Hakkinen. The Utes just don't get much TV time in
Helsinki, or anyplace else outside the Beehive State, despite the
fact that their 87-13 record over the last 100 games gives them
the top winning percentage in the nation over that span. "We're
the answer to a lot of trivia questions," senior forward Alex
Jensen says.

For instance, few fans realize that the Utes have produced an NBA
lottery pick in each of the last three seasons. If that streak is
to be extended beyond Keith Van Horn, Michael Doleac and Andre
Miller, it will likely be Mottola towering over David Stern next
June. Utah's top returning scorer (15.3 points a game) and
second-best rebounder (5.4) a year ago, Mottola is a classic
European big man whose outside shooting and passing are
exceptional for his size. Alas, his Scandinavian temperament has
never suited his coach, Rick Majerus. "Hanno's got to get rid of
that Finnish stone-faced funk," Majerus says. "He needs a more
combative attitude. Whenever he backs off, I tell him he's
getting too European."

Mottola is surrounded by a mix of solid players who should lead
the Utes to their sixth straight regular-season conference title.
Tops among them is Jensen, one of college basketball's most
underrated players last year. He averaged 12.1 points, 7.6
rebounds and 3.4 assists a game and became only the second player
in the 30-year history of the Huntsman Center to have a triple
double. (The other was Magic Johnson in Michigan State's '79 NCAA
semifinal game.)

The biggest challenge, of course, will be finding someone to
replace Miller. Majerus initially plans to use the combined
talents of Tony Harvey, Trent Whiting and Gary Colbert in what he
calls "point guard by competition." Whoever quarterbacks the
offense should expect to find Mottola down low more often after
his visit to New Jersey this summer to study post moves with Van
Horn. Mottola has yet to distinguish himself as Utah's leader the
way Van Horn did, and he knows why. "I haven't made the clutch
shots to win games like Keith," Mottola says. "That's a mental
line I must cross before I can say that my game is complete."

Call it the Finnish line.

--T.C.

[BOX]

STARTING LINEUP

POS. HT. CLASS KEY STAT

SF Alex Jensen[1] 6'7" Sr. 7.6 rpg
PF Hanno Mottola[1] 6'10" Sr. 15.3 ppg
C Nate Althoff[1] 6'11" Jr. 4.9 ppg
SG Jeremy Killion[1] 5'11" Sr. 8.9 ppg
PG Tony Harvey 6'5" Sr. 2.5 apg

1998-99 record: 28-5 Final rank (coaches' poll): No. 10
Returning starter[1]

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Pillar of strength Mottola was at home amid the columns of the Cathedral of Helsinki, but his coach wants him to be "less European."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)