HERE'S A FOREIGN CONCEPT: NO TV, NO CAR,
Friday, September 29, 2000
Section: SPORTS PRO BASKETBALL 2 POINTS AN OCEAN
SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Illustration: Photo, Sylita Thomas finds the pace
is much more relaxed in Finland.
Editor's note: Sylita Thomas, a 6-foot-2 forward
from Petersburg, Va., is in her second pro season after graduating
from Georgetown University in 1999.Thomas, who finished with 1,338
points and 904 rebounds in four seasons on the Hilltop, will he
writing about her experiences once a month in The Washington Times.
- I have returned to the middle of nowhere, which is about a four-hour
drive north of Helsinki.
This is my home the next eight months, except for
a short stay in the United States during the Christmas holidays.
I have no roommate, no television, no automobile
and no night life.
But I have a pretty good relationship with an orange
ball. I'm being paid to play basketball, and the alternative, I
suspect, is a desk job, rush hour on the Beltway and lots of bills.
I am a second-year player with the Huima basketball
team, which competes in the SM Sarja Top League, Finland's WNBA.
I receive $1,700 a month as well as free housing and transportation
and a food allowance.
I'm also something of a mini-celebrity around town
(pop: 14,000). I can't hide, I know that. I kind of stick out around
all these fair-complexioned Nordic faces.
The Finnish Cup has started, with all the teams
from around the country competing in a single-elimination tournament.
We won the opening game big as I had 33 points and nine rebounds.
They have tinkered with several of the rules. We
now play four 10-minute quarters instead of two 20-minute halves.
Bonus free throws start with the fourth team foul in each quarter
instead of the old seven team fouls in each half. The shot clock
has been changed from 30 seconds to 24, and a team has eight seconds
to advance the ball past the midcourt line instead of the customary
I have been informed that I have to move from my
conveniently located apartment, which is by the arena and the center
of town. The decision was made in a town meeting. That is how housing
is handled here, and not just for me but for everyone. So for the
good of the town, I will be moving to a new apartment.
The town is very accepting of people from different
cultures, in this case a single black female from America.
People see me and say, "Terve," which means hello
in English. I reply in kind. Hello is one of the few Finnish words
I know. Fortunately, most Finns, with their reserved nature and
good manners, speak good English and try to make you feel at home.
This is not harried D.C., to say the least. Finns
obey the laws, almost to a comical extent. They don't even jaywalk.
They can be standing at a crosswalk, with not a car in sight, but
they won't cross the street until they are given the electronic
Me, I'm an American, and a committed jaywalker,
a weakness that sometimes is met with disapproving looks from the
In response to the rain and chill, I have packed
away my sandals and T-shirts in exchange for sweaters and a raincoat.
Winters are long, cold and dark. And quiet. Real quiet. But I like
the slow pace. It reminds me of Petersburg, where I grew up before
I went to Georgetown.
The area around the two-lane highway from the airport
to the town is beautiful, so green, so many lakes and so pristine.
It is an eyeful, especially if you're accustomed to the stretch
of Interstate 95 between the District and Petersburg.
I played in a scrimmage soon after getting here
against a team that had traveled nearly four hours. They had no
accommodations, so right after the game, people started rolling
out mats for the players. The team spent the night in the gym. If
only I knew how to say "pleasant dreams" in Finnish.
It is going to take time to get to know our new
forward from Russia. I don't speak Russian, and she doesn't speak
English, so that leaves sign language and a lot of smiling. She's
a talented player, and tough. She has a handle and can hit the 3-pointer.
We also have added a new point guard. These two
additions should allow our team to make a run at the title this
Meanwhile, I plan to work on my self-control at
the crosswalks in town.