Hippo checks in with the latest on Koponen. This time there is no lack of offensive production to defend. Thanks Dee Brown! Game pic here . Box score here . Jubilant Finns celebrating here .
Petteri Koponen has never been closer to the NBA than in the beginning of NBA Las Vegas Summer League in July 2008. Fresh from leading Honka Playboys to a Finnish championship and receiving the Finnish League MVP award, Koponen tipped off the summer league draining 19 points—most of 'em in the face of Washington Wizards hopeful Dee Brown—while leading the Blazers to 78-73 victory.
The remaining Summer League games didn't go so well for Koponen. The young Finn struggled with his field goal percentages and quietly faded out while Jerryd Bayless made most of his minutes as a Dwyane Wade mini-me. Bayless made it to the Blazers roster while Koponen signed with Italian league powerhouse Virtus Bologna.
While Koponen has been struggling in his first 14 months with Virtus, Dee Brown has become a household name in Italy. The former Fighting Illini star has been the main reason Air Avellino started the 2009/10 season 6-0. Brown has been the man, leading the team with 18,1 points, 5,9 assists and 1,9 steals a game while Koponen's start has been rather slow. Many didn't expect Virtus to have a chance against Air Avellino in Sunday's Serie A battle.
I guess Dee Brown brings out the beast in Koponen, who started the game red hot, draining three treys in a row in the face of Brown while Virtus took an early ten-point lead. Brown used his quickness and strength to power to the basket in the second quarter, cutting Virtus lead to three, but Virtus got right back on track just before the halftime.
In second half, Koponen absolutely destroyed Brown in the defensive end, limiting him to only three second-half points, while leading a balanced team-offense. Fourth quarter was only garbage time while Virtus secured a 73-55 (42-33) victory, handing Avellino their first loss of the season. At the end of the game, the home crowd of 7,500 were chanting Koponen's name.
Koponen ended up with his Serie A record, 18 points, while dishing out two assists, grabbing one rebound and picking opponent's pockets once, while he also turned the ball over three times in second quarter. This was certainly the kind of outburst everyone in Bologna, Finland (and maybe Portland?) were expecting from the 2007 first-round draft pick.
Just two weeks ago, Virtus owner Claudio Sabatini openly questioned Koponen's ability to lead the team and so far Koponen has lived up to the challenge—last week he couldn't get his shot to fall against Cimberio Varese, but he responded with seven clutch points to secure the victory. In Sunday's game, Koponen had a green light to shoot and he responded by putting the crowd in a frenzy.
When players ante up, the expectations also rise. It remains to be seen whether Koponen is able to maintain or if his scoring drops in the upcoming games. Next week, Virtus Bologna plays at home against Pepsi Caserta, tied to the 3rd spot of Serie A rankings with Virtus. Pepsi Caserta is a strong, versatile team led by NBA veteran Jumaine Jone, impressively physical "power guard" Ere Ebi, experienced playmakers Fabio Di Bella and Lukasz Koszarek and natural scorer Timothy Bowers.
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