A Lotta Look Forward To
Finland National Team point guard Lotta-Maj Lahtinen excited to start life, play at Georgia Tech
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Lotta-Maj Lahtinen isn’t 100 percent sure how she wants to be addressed at McCamish Pavilion -- she volunteered ‘Maj’ (pronounced “My”) -- but she does know that she wants to be addressed as a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket. She’s thrilled to be in Atlanta.
“I like this place a lot,” said the 5-8, native of Helsinki, Finland. “Everything is bigger and I’m still learning where everything is -- where to go to class, where the gym is situated, where the dorms are, where the A.A. is -- but I like it a lot. I like the team, I like the fact that the gym is always open, you can always go to shoot and you can always go work on stuff. It’s a good first impression.”
The same could be said of her -- even with the high expectations that have come with being the No. 23 international prospect according to Collegiate Girls Basketball Report, and one of six incoming freshmen in a recruiting class that was ranked as high as seventh in the country, by Prospect Nation.
"Lotta-Maj is an exceptional student-athlete with a high basketball IQ," said Georgia Tech women’s basketball head coach MaChelle Joseph. "She is a tireless worker who competes on every possession. She has a toughness and maturity about her game that you see when she steps on the floor. She is a true combo guard with the ability to play multiple positions."
That competitiveness began growing up in Helsinki, as she’s the oldest of three siblings. Her younger brothers, ages 17 and 14, both play ice hockey yet still feel compelled to challenge their older sister in hoops.
“My brothers try to beat me every summer, but they haven’t done it yet,” she said, smiling. “My 17-year-old brother is already stronger and bigger than me, but I still beat him.”
She’s tried getting on the ice but admitted, with a laugh, “That’s their area. Let’s keep it that way.”
Lahtinen doesn’t need ice. She’s cool on the court and is cool with her first exposure to Georgia Tech and Coach Jo’s way.
“I like the fact that they’re helping us a lot when some things are new. In every practice and in workouts, we’re doing something new,” she said. “They always explain it well so that there isn’t any confusion. Also, the upperclassmen take on a good role. You can feel that everybody wants the team to be united and take the freshmen in and teach us so when preseason starts, we’re going to know as much as we can.
“I like the way Coach Jo demands and really wants to make me and make us better players and better people,” she added. “I heard some older players’ experiences about the school and how they grew up as a person and as a player. Also, of course, the level that they play - it’s an ACC school, it’s a good league. So that was the biggest thing, to challenge myself to go to this school. I wanted to play in the ACC.”
While she knows there will be an adjustment period, Lahtinen has already made herself right at home at McCamish Pavilion.
“I haven’t thought of the phrase ‘gym rat,’ but I always try to, after practice, take a few extra shots,” she said. “Especially now when it’s summer and we have time to work on our skills, of course I’m going to go and use that time when I’m free to work.”
She’s more than just a shooter. She boasts an all-around game and plays both ends of the floor.
Lahtinen started playing basketball at age seven, choosing hoops over gymnastics.
“I liked the competitiveness in basketball,” she said. “When I was little, it was the team, I had a lot of friends in basketball. But the competitiveness, in every practice and game, in every situation you could win. So it was more fun than just hopping from one trampoline to another.”
She also had role models. Especially formative were Finnish point guards Reeta Piipari, Xavier’s all-time assists leader, who played 12 pro seasons in Finland and Spain, and Courtney Vandersloot, the West Coast Conference Newcomer of the Year, three-time WCC Player of the Year (and three-time WCC Women’s Tournament MVP), at Gonzaga -- she was the first D-I player, man or woman, with 2,000 career points and 1,000 assists -- then a 2011 First Round WNBA pick of by Chicago Sky, and a player in the Turkish Women’s Basketball League (TKBL).
“Piipari was really smart and she saw good passes, she was a good leader,” Lahtinen said. “I liked (Vandersloot’s) ability to both score and be a guard. She was someone I liked to watch.”
Lahtinen learned well and has played with the Finnish National Team since 2014, including at the 2016 European Championship qualifiers. She also helped lead Makelanrinne Sports (high school) to a third-place finish in the 2017 High School World Championships.
"During my 40 years of coaching, I have had a lot of great players, but nobody like Lotta-Maj,” said Pekka Salminen, of the Finnish Basketball Association. “Her dedication and ability to be coached are special. She never complains and nobody works harder than she does. Lotta-Maj understands the game and has the ability to get people around her involved."
Lahtinen believes she’s prepared for DI basketball, and especially ACC basketball.
“At the international level, especially when I played with the women’s national team, they had very athletic, big players who could play, who were fast and who were talented,” she said. “I think those experiences will help me challenge the fast point guards in the USA and the fast, athletic players here. I believe there are going to be new things, of course, in this league and new challenges, but I feel like I have a little bit of that professional game experience already.
She’s already got a leg up academically as she’s taking summer courses in history and English.
“They said it’s good to take summer courses because when the season starts you’re going to have so much more,” she said. “So it’s good to get some of the work done during the summer.
“Right now I’m doing industrial engineering but I feel like I’m an international person so I want to do maybe international affairs and then business,” she added. “I want to look at different options but I feel like maybe business could be my thing.”
While she decides what career path to take, Lahtinen will enjoy the many outdoor paths in Atlanta.
“I’m an outdoors person,” she said. “Finland is an outdoors country. I like to walk on campus, I like to walk to the gym and walk everywhere. On July 4, we went to bike on the BeltLine. That’s my favorite thing I’ve done so far because there was nature and you can just bike and look around. I like that.”