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FIN - Chance of a lifetime for Lee and Wolfpack

Gerald Lee (FIN)
Gerald Lee (FIN) - EuroBasket 2013

HELSINKI (FIBA Basketball World Cup) - In just 42 days, Gerald Lee and Finland are going to experience a thrill in international basketball that they never expected.

The Wolfpack will play at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain.

The Finns, after back-to-back ninth-place finishes at the last two EuroBaskets (2011 and 2013), will take on the USA, Turkey, the Dominican Republic, Ukraine and New Zealand in Group C.

Lee, the Finns' 2.08m power forward, spoke to FIBA.com about the task ahead in Bilbao.

FIBA: It's almost upon us, the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Are you ready?
Lee: I'm very excited for our team. It's a new experience. Our whole team, it's probably the biggest experience we'll ever have.

FIBA: What can we expect from the Finns, then?
Lee: We'll have the same approach as the past two years, a couple changes will be made (in players). We'll try to play a fast break game and with an aggressive defense.

FIBA: By defeating Greece, Turkey, Russia and hosts Slovenia last year at the EuroBasket, there must be a genuine belief in the ranks that the Finns can go out on any given day and defeat any opponent?
Lee: All of us think that we have a pretty good team and if we play our best, we can beat some good teams. But we have to play our best because we're smaller than pretty much all the other teams. We have to do something else and against Slovenia, we gave our all.

FIBA: The fan element is something that is constantly mentioned when the subject is Finnish basketball. What was the significance of having so many fans travel last year to the EuroBasket?
Lee: It's huge. Last summer in Slovenia, we saw something we had never seen in the basketball culture in Finland. There were fans outside our bus before our first game, cheering and it gave us a huge lift. It was a huge help and when it continued in the arena, they kept cheering.

FIBA: The presence of coach Henrik Dettmann seems to have been vital for Finland's rise in the game.
Lee: He's a great motivator. He knows exactly what to say at the right times, whether we are playing well or bad.

FIBA: You mentioned the issue of size, or lack of it, in the Finnish team. Who can we expect to give you some support in the low post in Bilbao?
Lee: We have Tuukka Kotti, Kimmo Muurinen and Hanno (Mottola) playing, too, and then we'll have Erik Murphy (Utah Jazz) joining the team after the (NBA) Summer League.

FIBA: Speaking of Hanno, he wasn't able to play after the opening round at the EuroBasket after suffering a serious knee injury. How is he doing?
Lee: We've had two weeks of camps and Hanno has been running. I'd say he's as good as he's ever been.

FIBA: The first game in Bilbao for Finland will be against the USA. Some might see taking on the No. 1 team in the FIBA bwin World Ranking Men, and the defending world and Olympic champions, as unfortunate. But the Finns seem to be embracing the opportunity.
Lee: I could see why some would think it's a bad thing but how many players can say they played against the Dream Team? And, it's going to be a great honor and we'll give our best. It (the draw) could have been a lot of worse. We could have gotten USA and some other (big-name) teams but after the draw, we thought this isn't bad. Every team wants to move on so it’s going to be good and exciting basketball. Maybe it's good to get it (the USA game) out of the way. Of course we are going to try win, like we do against every opponent.

FIBA: Not that long ago, in 2010, you were running up and down the floor for Old Dominion University in Virginia. Looking back, are you glad you played at university level before turning professional in Europe?
Lee: I think so. They helped me a lot with my inside game and I learned a lot and it was a great experience. We had a lot of ups and downs and we ended it with a conference championship and that was our goal. We were a little disappointed to lose to Baylor in the second round of the NCAA Tournament after opening with a win over Notre Dame, though.

FIBA: How different is playing college basketball to competing in Europe?
Lee: The biggest difference is the pace of the game. There is a 24-second shot-clock in Europe and in college, it's 35 seconds, so it's a lot faster and more transition. I think in Europe, the guys are more skilled in these pro leagues. I think it would be great if they switched to a 24-second shot-clock in college.

FIBA: You had a good run this past season in Romania with Ploiesti, winning the league title. What is the game like there?
Lee: I think the level of the league was surprisingly good and also we played Eurocup. That was the big thing to get me back (again next season).

FIBA: And you have already signed a new contract to stay with Ploiesti, so that's a relief?
Lee: I don't have to stress (during the summer) about signing a contract because I have one. It's a big thing because the last few summers, I signed in August and September.

FIBA: How much of a distraction was that for you since you also had the national team commitments?
Lee: It was something I had to do. I had it in my mind I had to play my best and try to help the team win but at the same time, play like I wanted to get a contract.