Weber State basketball: Finnish shooter Viljami Vartiainen commits to Wildcats
Hanno Möttölä has increasingly more reasons to pay attention to basketball in his old Utah stomping grounds.
Fresh off a summer coaching Utah Jazz surprise star Lauri Markkanen for Finland’s national team, Möttölä — the forward who helped the University of Utah to the national title game in 1998 — is sending his top high school shooter to play at Weber State.
Viljami Vartiainen, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard in the class of 2023, announced his commitment to Weber State men’s basketball via Instagram on Thursday morning.
Möttölä said the stability of Weber State’s staff and their track record of putting players in professional ranks across the world were key in Vartiainen’s decision.
“I think he has a really good 20 years of basketball ahead of him. I think he has a chance to be a good-level professional basketball player,” Möttölä said.
Vartiainen chose Weber State over Davidson, Bradley and UC Santa Barbara, according to reporter Jake Lieberman. Vartiainen will turn 19 in the spring.
Vartiainen has been the starting two-guard for Finland’s U18 national team and for Helsinki Basketball Academy, the high school equivalent where Möttölä is the head coach. His HBA team has played in Finland’s second-division pro league but will play in the top league this coming season, according to the HBA website.
The new Wildcat signed Thursday, which is the second day of the one-week early signing period for basketball.
“His skill level, his size, his shooting. He’s played at a really high level,” WSU head coach Eric Duft said. “We couldn’t be more excited. He’s the kind of player we want.”
Vartiainen shot 56% on uncontested 3-pointers during the 2021-22 season and 39% on catch-and-shoot 3s.
“The ability to shoot is pretty valuable and something that transfers to every level, so that’s the No. 1 thing,” Möttölä said about Vartiainen’s skill profile. “His size at the two-guard at almost 6-foot-7, he can guard full court. So his defensive ability and his shooting ability is something that’s going to put him on the floor at Weber State … he’s a really smart guy and plays the game the right way, he’s a team player.”
Finland went 5-2 and took third place at its Euro U18 competition this year. Vartiainen averaged 13.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.1 steals in 23 minutes per game. He was the team’s second-leading scorer behind Baylor commit Miro Little, shooting 34 of 70 (48.6%) from the field and 21 of 45 (46.7%) from the 3-point line.
Möttölä said he was high school classmates with Vartiainen’s mother; she went on to play college basketball at Xavier in the late ’90s when Möttölä was at Utah. He was coached by Donny Daniels, father of Weber State assistant Eric Daniels, while at Utah and has connected with Eric in previous recruiting processes.
Vartiainen is the first commitment to Weber State’s 2023 class.
MARKKANEN AND UTAH
In addition to being the head coach at HBA, Möttölä is an assistant coach for Finland’s men’s national team. Part of his job with the national program is visiting players wherever they play collegiately or professionally to make sure they have what they need to develop — so having Vartiainen and Markkanen in Utah is a good setup for the former Utes player.
“I’ve got nothing but great things to say about the Salt Lake area … it’s going to be nice to come back,” Möttölä said. “That’s a bonus when I get to go visit them.”
Markkanen seemed to put the NBA on notice for the seventh-place Finns at EuroBasket 2022 this summer. Markkanen was the tournament’s second-leading scorer at 27.9 points per game, only behind Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 29.3 average, and ninth in rebounding at 8.1 per game.
That was indeed a sign of things to come. Markkanen, a 7-footer who arrived in Utah this season with Collin Sexton in the trade that sent Donovan Mitchell to Cleveland, has NBA career highs at 22.7 points per game on 52.7% field goal shooting, adding 8.8 rebounds per game, for the West-leading Jazz (10-3).
“It’s been a great run for the Jazz so far, seeing Lauri getting a chance to fully showcase his talent. The Jazz are basically letting him play the way we use him here for the national team, so it’s cool to see,” Möttölä said. “Hopefully, that run’s going to continue and the Jazz have a chance to build a championship-caliber team.”