Puzzle pieces: Finlandia men’s basketball looking for right players to continue building with

Photo courtesy of Finlandia Athletics Joseph Heinonen of Superior Central is one of the recruits for the Finlandia University in the upcoming season.

HANCOCK — When Finlandia University men’s basketball coach Mike O’Donnell went shopping in the off-season, he was looking for a couple of things.

“One, we wanted to add some depth,” O’Donnell said. “We were worn down in a lot of games last season. Two, we wanted to find a big man in the middle.”

The Lions, 4-17 last season, added some depth with the recent signings of Joseph Heinonen of Superior Central, River Shumate of Republic-Michigamme and Alijah McChriston of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“We feel we’ve got some of the depth we need in those three,” O’Donnell commented. “In many of our games last season, we would play well for a long time, but fade down the stretch because of depth.”

Heinonen, who has many relatives in the Copper Country area, gained all-conference and All-U.P. honors after averaging 18.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks a game for Superior Central.

“We’re very excited about having Joe (Heinonen) in our program,” O’Donnell said. “His size (6-foot-5) will be a big aid and he can play outside. Plus, he’s a very high character kid and a great student in the classroom.”

Shumate, a 6-1 forward swing player, is noted for his ability to guard the other team’s top player.

“River is a very coachable kid and his defensive ability will be a plus for us,” O’Donnell noted. “I’m looking forward to having him here for the next four years.”

An outstanding student, Shumate was named the Marquette County Student-Athlete of the year in 2018.

McChriston, will add depth in the backcourt. He averaged six rebounds a game and shot 88 percent from the free throw line.

“Alijah (McChriston) is one of those players we expect to grow as he goes through college,” O’Donnell said.

The addition of a big man has yet to be fulfilled by FU.

But the team, which will return every player from a year ago, has some positives.

Leading scorers Brandon Robinette and Geoff Smart will be looked upon to set the standard for the team.

Robinette, who stands 6-6, (Escanaba) averaged 15.5 points and 7.3 rebounds last season after coming back from a season-ending knee injury in 2016.

“Brandon has been in our program for his entire career,” O’Donnell said. “He’s a solid all-around player who’s also a great leader on the floor.”

The 6-3 Smart (Kingsford) was good for 12.2 points and 3 steals an outing a season ago.

“Geoff Smart is one of those players who does a lot of good things on the floor,” said O’Donnell.

Other returnees returning include Tristan Johnson, Myles Ellington and 6-8 Austin Carlson (Crystal Falls-Forest Park).

Carlson, a senior, is a player who has been improving steadily.

He averaged 7 points and 5 rebounds a game.

“We feel that Austin (Carlson) has improved his underneath game …. he’ll be one of the main options in the inside,” O’Donnell said.

Recruiting in the U.P. is a major thing for the Finlandia skipper.

“This is our major recruiting area, we like to sign up the U.P. kids,” he said.