Hannuksela signs with UW-Stout

Mesabi East’s Hannah Hannuksela drives to the basket against Cromwell’s Natalee Hakamaki in the first half of last February’s game in Aurora.

AURORA — Hannah Hannuksela had made her decision on where she would attend college and play basketball.

That was until the Mesabi East point guard was contacted by the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

She had visited four other colleges prior to Stout, but the coach calling “out of the blue’’ and her subsequent visit to the campus in Menomonie made it clear she would have to change her mind.

“I loved everything’’ about the school in western Wisconsin and her future teammates. “Something just clicked with Stout.’’ And as she left the campus with her parents, she told them that’s where she wanted to go.

What attracted Stout head women’s basketball coach Hannah Iverson to Hannuksela?

“They said they were looking for a true point guard’’ for a long time. Timing also played a role, Hannuksela said in a telephone interview, because Stout is graduating its point guard this season. That will give her the chance to play varsity right away or by her sophomore year, said Hannuksela, whose college major is undecided.

Mesabi East head girls’ basketball coach Chris Whiting said Hannuksela has plenty to offer the UW-S Blue Devils.

He thinks the Stout coaches saw mental toughness, a good teammate and someone with an excellent work ethic in Hannuksela. She also averaged between 16 and 17 points a game last season, has the ability to finish and has a good outside shot.

“She’s well liked by her teammates’’ and will fit in well down at Stout.

Whiting said Hannuksela has some excellent skills, which will serve her well with the Blue Devils.

“I think she has the ability to go to the next level,’’ based on her prowess driving to the basket and also switching speeds and direction. “That always helps at the next level.’’

He added her best attribute is getting the ball up the court and driving to the basket in traffic.

Besides playing for Mesabi East, Hannuksela also played for the Starks Elite AAU squad out of Duluth.

“They helped me tremendously’’ and even contacted Stout about her and other coaches, she added. “They have a lot of connections. That helps.’’

In a television interview with FOX21’s Sam Ali, Hannuksela said she is thankful for the time spent with the instructors at Starks Academy and the Starks Elite AAU team.

“CJ [Osuchukwu] and Dyami [Starks], their workouts are so structured that when you go down there, you get stuff done. So it was worth it, an hour drive every week, three times a week. It was worth it.”

The AAU experience definitely benefited her by playing against the best girls around, including some that are going Division I.

“You can measure your skills against their skills,’’ according to Hannuksela. She called it an “eye opener’’ and said it helped her step up her own game.

Heading into her final high school season, Hannuksela knows she has things to work on. “Definitely lift more weights’’ because Stout focuses a lot on that. She also realizes she will need that strength out on the court when she gets to the college level.

Whiting would like to see his team leader improve her ability to see the court even better than she does now. As with any player, “the more you play the more it comes along. She’s got good abilities on the court and she’ll continue to expand on that.’’

Hannuksela has her sights set on reaching 2,000 career points, but said it could be difficult with COVID-19 limiting the number of games teams can play.

The most important thing about the season, which starts Jan. 14, is “having a good last year and creating memories with my team’’ and “making the most out of the season we do get.’’

Whiting is looking forward to seeing Hannuksela play at the collegiate level and he has definitely enjoyed the years she has been in the Giants basketball program.

“She’s just been fun to work with. She always comes and works hard in practice and in games.’’

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