Before 1994, the Finnish basketball team that just signed 2016-17 Saluki Sean O’Brien was named after the Finnish town it is located in — Uusikaupunki.
The team’s new name now, Korihait is reference to the “hai” part of the name, which translates to “shark.”
Nevertheless, more important matters abounded for O’Brien after he signed. He knew he’d have to get ready for a European professional basketball life. That prep would entail getting ready to produce from the moment he landed in Finland.
“The European Leagues expect a lot from American players,” O’Brien said in an SIU Athletics press release. “Typically, they only are allowed four Americans on their roster, so I needed to show up prepared and in shape.”
Fortunately, what O’Brien needed to do was very convenient for the suburban Chicago star.
O’Brien called professional basketball trainer and acquaintance Jeff Pagliocca and signed up for several weeks of work at the Evolution Athletics Fitness Center located 12 miles south of O’Brien’s Mundelein home in Deerfield.
For years, Pagliocca has been training high school, college and professional players in the arts of shooting off the dribble, shooting after the catch, dribbling skills and footwork. But it’s not that O’Brien has no skills already that would put him in good stead in a European setting.
“European ball is team oriented,” O’Brien said. “There’s a lot of movement in it. And I’m already pretty good at moving without the ball and sharing it with teammates.
This past season for the Salukis, O’Brien averaged 12 points a game. But what attracted the Sharks to O’Brien was his 89 assists this past season for SIU, good enough for second on the team.
Even though he rebounds very well, averaging nearly nine rebounds a game at SIU, Sean will probably play a kind of point-forward position for the Sharks given his passing skills.
O’Brien said his agent Ben Stebick recommended Korihait and a Swedish team as far as which team to sign on the dotted line. He said he chose to ink with the Finnish team because of its general history in being competitive and the fact that he’d be one of two Americans on it.
Although the team has had success in the Finnish league in the past, Korihait had a bad year last season amassing only five wins. So, the Sharks are looking to reload with new Americans. Chas Williams of U-Mass will be in his first year at Korihait, too.
So now the grind begins. O’Brien realizes he better get his “fun” in playing his beloved hoops while he can. The “real” world of jobs waits after his professional basketball career ends.
“I want to play ball as long as my body holds up,” O’Brien said. “I’m definitely not quite ready to sit in an office all day.”