When the Utah Utes come to Tucson to play the Arizona Wildcats on Thursday, they’ll be facing Finnish phenom Lauri Markkanen for the first time.
But it could have been the other way around.
Markkanen chose to attend Arizona over Utah and North Carolina. It was kind of an upset for Sean Miller and company at the time because Markkanen had closer ties to the other two.
Lauri’s father Pekka played for Roy Williams at Kansas, and Lauri’s club coach, Hanno Möttölä, played at Utah. But neither of those ties swayed Markkanen to those schools.
“He played at Utah, but he didn’t push Utah for me,” Lauri said of Möttölä’s role in his recruitment. “It was my decision.”
On more than one occasion, Markkanen has mentioned that he wished Tucson’s weather was a little colder like in Finland, which you would think would make Salt Lake City a more attractive destination for the big man.
But it was a comfort thing that had to do with more than weather that brought him to Tucson.
“I feel more at home in general,” Markkanen explained. “I have a better relationship with the coaching staff, players, and overall I like it more.”
“I liked Utah when I was there, but I think (Tucson) is a much better place for me,” he continued. “It feels more like home here, so it was an easy decision for me, and I’m excited to play against Utah.”
This will be his third career conference game, having averaged 14 points and 7.5 rebounds in the two Bay Area victories.
“There’s more pressure in conference play, especially on the road,” he said after returning home. “I like playing on the road as much as I like playing in McKale, but it was a big weekend for us.”
Markkanen will enter his first home conference game as Arizona’s leading scorer (15.8), minute-getter (31.4), rebounder (7.3), free-throw shooter (83.6%) and the least prone to turnovers (1.1).
Safe to say Miller and everyone else is happy that Markkanen chose Tucson over Salt Lake City.