Experience, maturity and height is what the new University of Utah Women’s Basketball commit Elli Koskinen brings to the table. The 6′ 5″ Finland native will join the Utes for the 2017-18 season, after playing club ball and competing with the Finnish national team.

Koskinen started playing basketball when she was four years old. Whenever an opportunity arose for her to play, Koskinen’s mom would make sure her daughter took advantage of it. Besides horse-back riding, basketball was the only sport Koskinen was exposed to at a young age. It was the sport she decided to stick with, and the one that she fell in love with.

At the age of 16, Koskinen was all but forced to go out on her own if she wanted to develop her skills as a player on the court. In Finland high school sports are, for the most part, non-existent, and sports at a collegiate level are rare. For student athletes to gain experience while growing up, they have to either play club basketball or attend high schools that offer sporting programs. Koskinen decided that she wanted to do both.

She moved about an hour away from her parents and home in order to attend Karttuli High School. It was one of the few high schools that offered a sports program for their students. While they still didn’t have a high school team, students were provided a facility to practice and develop their skills before school with other athletes. When school was over for the day, they would take what they learned at the practice facility and use it with their club teams.

“At first it was a lot of fun being on my own,” Koskinen said. “I got to experience, at a young age, what it was like to be an adult and live on my own. I had to take care of the place I was living at, and I had to take care of myself. I had to buy food, cook and take care of the house. I was on my own and I learned a lot from it.”

However, being by herself took its toll on Koskinen. After almost six months at her new school Koskinen was wearing thin and she didn’t know how to handle her busy schedule anymore. She would go from practice in the morning, to school, to practice after school with her club teams.

“I didn’t want to say anything, but I was tired,” Koskinen said. “I finally talked to parents and coaches and said I was tired, and I got out of some practices and went home for a little bit. After I regrouped, I went back, got a roommate and then finished my high school career.”

During her high school career, Koskinen represented her country multiple times as she played for the U15, U16, and U18 (2011-2014) national teams. She also played for two different club teams where she spent three years with Turun Riento and this past season with Forssan Alku. During her time with Turun Riento she nearly averaged a double-double through 17 games with 8.5 point and 8.5 rebounds per game during the 2015-16 season.

“She’s got a really good feel for the game, something you can’t really teach,” said head coach Lynne Roberts. “She’s got big size and good mobility, something that’s really rare in post players. I’m really excited that she’ll bring instant depth at the post. But what’s special is that with all her experience that she’s had overseas, even though she’s a freshman, she’s going to bring a sense of maturity and experience that a lot of freshmen don’t usually bring. I’m really excited to work with her and see her play more.”

From the brink of giving up when she was 16, to now being a member of a Pac-12 squad; Koskinen owes a lot of her success to one of her best friends she grew up with.

“My best friend taught me to never give up,” Koskinen said. “Never give up and always stay positive. She’s four years older than me and has always been a great example. Now that I’m here, I’m so happy she was in my life, and I’m looking forward to what is to come.”

s.funk@dailyutahchronicle.com

@scottfunk0

Scott Funk is currently interning as a sports writer for The Daily Utah Chronicle. He completed an internship with Cumulus Media before writing for The Globe at Salt Lake Community College. He also recently completed an internship with ESPN 700.

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