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NMU women's hoops coach Mattson excited about Finnish recruit

June 17, 2012
By Craig Remsburg - Senior Sports Writer ( , The Mining Journal

It can now be said Troy Mattson will literally go to great lengths to improve his Northern Michigan University women's basketball team.

Even reaching out to Tampere, Finland.

The Wildcats' head coach announced Tuesday he has added 6-foot-2 forward Nea Makela, voted the most valuable player of the Women's U19 League by the Finnish Basketball Association, to his lineup beginning next season.

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Craig Remsburg

Makela has signed a scholarship form. Once all the i's are dotted and the t's crossed in the next month or six weeks, she will be officially enrolled at NMU.

"She's the top player in that country," Mattson said. "I've seen her many times on film and ... she can do things my bigger girls can't do.

"She has the capability of shooting NBA-range 3-pointers, can catch the ball and finish on the run, and is a great passer.

"I have some talented big girls now, but they can't do all that," he added.

Makela averaged 18.9 points, 11.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game last season playing for the U19 League in the Finnish Basketball Association.

Mattson can credit Lisa Coombs-Gerou, chief executive officer of the Marquette YMCA and longtime Magic AAU girls basketball coach from Marquette, with an assist in landing Makela.

She and fellow AAU basketball coach J.P. Nieminen of Finland became friends through the Magic program, both staying in each other's homes when traveling with their basketball teams.

"I've been aware of the young lady coming here for a while," Coombs-Gerou said. "I'm pretty excited about it. She'll be a nice addition.

"Finnish girls can really run the floor."

Former NMU men's head basketball coach Dean Ellis and Mattson worked at a coaches' clinic in Finland and talked with Nieminen, establishing a rapport.

This past February, Nieminen emailed Mattson of Makela's availability.

"She had a couple of other schools to consider, but he told her to come here," Mattson said.

NCAA rule changes over the past few years have made it more difficult to recruit players from foreign countries. But Mattson said NMU is "ahead of the game" in bringing Makela to Marquette.

There will be a major adjustment period for Makela, of course. Coming from Finland to the United States won't be easy, though Mattson is counting on her being comfortable among the large Finnish population in Marquette and surrounding areas.

He added Tampere is similar to Marquette and Nieminen was "comfortable" during his visit here. So much so, the Finn had no reservations about recommending to Makela she give Northern a try.

The NMU coach has talked with Makela and her father "many times" over the telephone and has been impressed with the player's responses in their conversations.

Though Makela is listed as a forward, she could wind up being a center - or even a guard - once Mattson sees her in practice and gets a handle on what she can do.

Imagine the matchup problems GLIAC foes will have if the 6-2 Makela plays as a guard. It could produce defensive nightmares.

Assuming Makela truly comes here and is everything she's reputed to be on the court, she should no doubt be a major addition to a Wildcat team that went 13-14 overall and 9-10 in the GLIAC last season.

Mattson is confident that will be the case.

Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is



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