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Utah basketball: Junior forward Mikael Jantunen temporarily leaves Utes to join Finnish National Team in EuroBasket qualifier

Star from Helsinki, Finland, departs with the blessing of Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, will return before Pac-12 Tournament

SHARE Utah basketball: Junior forward Mikael Jantunen temporarily leaves Utes to join Finnish National Team in EuroBasket qualifier
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Utah Utes forward Mikael Jantunen (20) moves with the ball against Arizona Wildcats forward Jordan Brown (21) during a men’s basketball game at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. Jantunen left the Utes to join the Finnish National team, but will return before the Pac-12 Tournament.

Annie Barker, Deseret News

Utah’s men’s basketball team will be shorthanded for the foreseeable future, and not just because sophomore point guard Rylan Jones is out with an injured shoulder.

Just before the Utes took the floor at Stanford on Saturday night, the school announced that junior forward Mikael Jantunen will miss the next few games. Jantunen will head back to Europe and join the Finnish National Team for its elimination game against Switzerland in a FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifier game.

Jantunen said it was a difficult decision.

“It wasn’t an easy decision and I never want to miss any games,” he said in a school news release. “At the same time, I’m going to play for my country and when they called saying they needed me, I felt like I had to go and I want to go help us qualify for the tournament. I’ve been playing with the national team since I was a teenager and it’s been a dream of mine to play for the senior national team and represent my country.”

The 6-foot-8 forward currently leads the Pac-12 in shooting with a 64.6% rate. He is averaging 8.5 points through 15 games this season.

“We wish Mikael and the Finnish National Team all the best as they take care of business over at the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifier,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “We look forward to him joining us down the home stretch of the season and compete in the Pac-12 Tournament.”

The Finnish National Team is currently 1-3 in the qualifiers. It meets the Switzerland team on Sept. 19 at 3 a.m. MST in Tbilisi, Georgia, at the Sports Palace.

The Finns meet Georgia on Sunday, Feb. 21 in the last qualifier game.