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Utahns celebrate success of Lauri Markkanen ahead of All-Star Weekend

Posted at 8:00 AM, Feb 15, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns are getting excited to see Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen participate in NBA All-Star Weekend and FOX 13 News has a unique connection to the Markkanen family.

Markkanen will start for the Western Conference team in Sunday's All-Star Game and will participate in the league's 3-point contest on Saturday night.

You may remember Timo Saaraleinen, VP of Sales at FOX 13 News, from his time playing at Brigham Young University with Danny Ainge.

Saaraleinen also competed on the Finnish National Team with Lauri's dad, and he's extremely proud of the success of his fellow flying Finn.

"Here comes Lauri, from a little old Finland, way up North there and, yeah, he's earned it! I figured he's gonna make it," Saaraleinen said. "I mean the kind of season he's had, it's just fun to watch."

After his days playing as a BYU Cougar, Saaraleinen continued on with the Finnish National Team, where he was teammates with a young man named Peka Markkanen.

"Pekka is 6'10", Lauri's dad, so it was great, because those international teams that we play against, they all have like seven footers or 7'2", 7'4"…Russians had two 7'4"s in their starting lineup," Saaraleinen explained. "And so it was nice to see a guy like that come through!"

It was Pekka's life off the court that continued the family legacy in basketball.

"He married a basketball player as well. So it was like, Lauri was like, you knew it was going to happen," Saaraleinen said. "They're going to have kids that are tall. And so here comes Lauri at 7 feet, so it was fun to see."

Lauri was eventually recruited to play college basketball at the University of Arizona in Tucson and Saaraleinen got the chance to connect with him while visiting.

"Saw him play, had a nice lunch with him, and this is obviously before the draft," he explained. "And it was nice, it was great to see a Finnish kid come through and go so high in the draft."

It wasn't until arriving in Utah this year that Markkanen blossomed into an all-star, a first for him and the first time ever for a player from Finland.

"It's about being on the right team, at the right time," Saaraleinen said. "With the right coaching and obviously all those stars aligned here in Utah for him and we've all seen the results…He's amazing!"